Discuss research into stress-related illness and the immune system

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Discuss research into stress-related illness and the immune system.

The body’s response to stress is said to have a relationship with the immune system, causing suppression. Riley conducted research to prove that stress had immunosuppressive effects on the body. He implanted cancer cells into mice, and divided them into two groups. The first group of mice were exposed to a high stress condition in which they were put on a rotating turntable for 10 minutes an hour for 3 days. The second group mice did not experience this high stress condition. Riley found that the cancer cells had developed into tumours in the ‘stressed’ mice and that their leucocyte levels were reduced, and that tumour growth had ceased in the ‘non-stressed’ group of mice. He concluded from the findings that stress was causing the immune system to function improperly and could therefore not control the tumour growth, and the reduced leucocyte levels also suggested a weakening of the immune system.

In another study – Kiecolt-Glaser (1995) – further research and evidence was obtained to support the relationship between stress and suppressive effects on the immune system. They looked at chronic and naturally occurring stress in 13 female individuals, who had been caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s disease for an average of 8 years. There was a control group for the experiment of 13 females matched to the carers in age and family income. The slowing of wound healing was used as a measure for immune damage, so the experimenters created a small wound in the arm of the participants, close to the elbow. Time taken for the wound to heal was assessed by photographs on a regular basis, and also by adding hydrogen peroxide to the wound, which would show that the wound had healed if there was no foaming. Kiecolt-Glaser et al found that the control group’s wounds took on average 39.3 days to heal, whereas the caregiver’s wounds took on average 48.7 days to heal. This shows that chronic stress suppressed the immune system, because the stressed individual’s wounds took longer to heal suggesting the immune system was not functioning properly.

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There are various strengths and limitations of this research, and it is important to evaluate how these affect the studies and the conclusions that they have drawn about the relationship between stress and the immune system. Firstly, the findings have important implications on how the improper functioning of the immune system could affect our bodies. Stress-related illness can be reduced when our knowledge of how it effects the immune system is fully understood. For instance when treating people with infections, or particularly those who are recovering from surgery, it is useful to know that reducing stress could speed up ...

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This is a great essay. It is not too long and doesn't try to pack in too many studies or too much procedural detail, but it is packed with analysis and evaluation of research and commentary on the conclusions that can and can't be drawn. One of its strengths is the way that studies have been counterposed to draw out points of comparison and contrast. Excellent