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Don't Worry, Be Happy: Negative Thoughts Can Increase Inflammation in the Body

Update Date: Mar 13, 2013 10:23 PM EDT

Negative thoughts can increase inflammation in the body, according to a new study.

Researchers at Ohio University found that people asked to ruminate on a stressful incident experienced a sharp rise in their levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of tissue inflammation.

"Much of the past work has looked at this in non-experimental designs. Researchers have asked people to report their tendency to ruminate, and then looked to see if it connected to physiological issues. It's been correlational for the most part," lead author Peggy Zoccola, an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio University, said in a statement.

The latest study involved 34 healthy young women.  Each participant was asked to give a speech about her qualifications for a job in front two confederate interviewers in white laboratory coats who listened with stone-faced expressions.

Afterwards, half of the participants were asked to think about their speech performance and the others were asked to think about neutral images and activities like sailing on a ship or shopping in a grocery store.

Analysis on blood samples, revealed that levels of C-reactive protein was significantly higher in participants who were asked to think about their speech.

Researchers found the levels of the inflammatory marker in participants asked to dwell on their speech continued to rise for at least an hour after the speech.  On the other hand, levels of the inflammatory marker in participants asked to focus on neutral thoughts returned to normal.

Researchers explained that the C-reactive protein is produced by the liver as part of the immune system's initial inflammatory response, and rises in response to traumas, injuries or infections. C-reactive protein is often used as a clinical marker to determine if a patient has an infection.  It is also used to predict whether someone will be at risk for disease later in life.

The levels can also predict whether "More and more, chronic inflammation is being associated with various disorders and conditions," Zoccola said. "The immune system plays an important role in various cardiovascular disorders such as heart disease, as well as cancer, dementia and autoimmune diseases." 

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