Entries in Cortisol (3)


Chronic Stress Feeds Common Cold, Study Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Stress makes the common cold more miserable and harder to kick by letting inflammation linger, a new study found.

Men and women who had chronic stress caused by work woes or marital strife were more likely to develop persistent cold symptoms after inhaling the cold virus than their stress-free counterparts. The culprit: cortisol, a stress hormone that serves as the off switch for the body's inflammatory response.

"The symptoms of a cold are not caused directly by the virus, they're caused by the inflammatory response to the infection," said Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and lead author of the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "You want to produce enough of inflammation to fight off the infection, but not so much that you experience cold symptoms."

With chronic stress, cortisol is overproduced, and the immune system becomes resistant. In the absence of the off switch, inflammation lingers long after the cold virus is gone.

"You have people whose immune cells are not responding to cortisol and, at the same time, they're exposed to a virus system creating an inflammatory response. But the body doesn't have the mechanism that allows it to turn off the inflammatory response, which manifests as cold symptoms," said Cohen.

The finding sheds light on the elusive connection between emotional stress and physical symptoms.

"There's quite a bit of evidence that people under chronic, enduring stressors, when exposed to a virus, are more likely to develop a cold than people who aren't suffering stress. What we didn't really know is how stress gets under the skin, so to speak, to influence these diseases," said Cohen. "This really suggests that inflammatory diseases, like asthma, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, would most likely be affected by stress."

Dr. Redford Williams, director of Duke University's Behavioral Medicine Research Center, said the study adds weight to stress management as a medical treatment.

"This provides a new mechanism for how stress plays a role in all kinds of diseases, not just colds but also coronary artery disease," he said. "And there's evidence that coping skills training can really reduce both the psychological and biological manifestations of stress."

Williams said the link between stress and disease has long been recognized, but only recently have researchers begun to tease out how stress makes the body more vulnerable to diseases.

"We have to focus on the biological pathways between stress and disease," he said. "As we learn more about that, I think we'll be able to design interventions that are more likely to be effective. We will enter an era of personalized medicine where we're able to prevent the disease from ever starting."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Stressed? Call Mom, Researchers Conclude

Todd Warnock/Lifesize/Thinkstock(MADISON, Wis.) -- Moms feed us, read to us, clap the loudest, cry the hardest, sit front row at recitals, write notes in our lunchboxes and promise that the hole in our hearts after a breakup won’t stay there forever.

So maybe it just makes sense that the sound of our moms’ voices triggers a physical hormonal response that comforts and de-stresses.

As Wired first reported, new research, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, found that conversations with Mom, over the phone or in person, were associated with a drop in cortisol, a steroid hormone that is released in response to stress. The mama chats also helped raise levels of oxytocin, a hormone linked to desire and gratification. But mom talks had no effect if they happened over text or instant messenger.

Researchers asked a group of 64 girls ages 7 through 12 to answer difficult math problems in front of three adults they didn’t know. The scientists were sure to exclude any girl who had extreme family strains or hardships.

After answering the questions, researchers split the girls into four groups. One group did not speak to their mothers at all, the next spoke on the phone, the third spoke in person and the last wrote to their moms on the computer through instant message. The girls who heard their moms’ voices, either in person or through the phone, experienced comforting hormone responses, but the girls who communicated with their moms through the computer showed no such changes.

Authors suggested that the voice’s familiar tone, cadence and intonation, rather than the specific words spoken, have calming effects on the body.

“In an age when emailing and texting and IMing is so popular, this shows that we’re missing the important component of the human voice that is able to convey comfort,” Leslie Seltzer, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin and lead author of the study, told ABC News. “The computer or text is just not the same as talking to someone.”

Take away, message: Call Mom. It’s good for your health.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio ´╗┐


Can Cortisol Stress Hormone Help to Overcome Fear of Heights?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BASEL, Switzerland) -- A study published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the addition of the stress hormone cortisol to traditional exposure therapy could help patients overcome the fear of heights.  In exposure therapy, patients are gradually introduced to the thing they fear to reduce the anxiety they feel in the future when encountering these objects or situations.

Dr. Dominique J.-F. de Quervain, director of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Basel in Switzerland and lead author of the study, says that more research is needed to explore the therapeutic potential of cortisol in combination with psychotherapy for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

"This is a first study -- a proof of concept, if you wish," he says.

The study included 40 people having clinically diagnosed acrophobia, or fear of heights.  Before engaging in virtual exposure activities, half of the patients took the cortisol hormone, while the other half was only given an inactive placebo.

At the trial's conclusion, the patients who took cortisol experienced fewer anxiety responses than those who had not been given cortisol.

The study authors also report that cortisol may help patients with social and spider phobias.

Researchers claim that patients with phobias generally recall mentally-recorded episode of fear when experiencing anxiety responses. 

But Dr. de Quervain says, "Cortisol inhibits retrieval of the fear memory and promotes the storage of corrective experiences."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio´╗┐

ABC News Radio