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A Change Of Genes Occurs In Chronic Stress Sufferers

Update Date: Nov 06, 2013 03:59 PM EST

Chronic stress is deemed to be a stress the body produces to fight an infection or trauma that never existed. According to a new study this kind of stress is associated with health problems. 

"This is not just any stress, but repeated stress that triggers the sympathetic nervous system, commonly known as the fight-or-flight response, and stimulates the production of new blood cells," reported The Ohio State University. "While this response is important for survival, prolonged activation over an extended period of time can have negative effects on health."

For the study, researchers used mice and subjected them to a stress similar to a person's reaction to continuous life stressors. Male mice who were living together were given time to form a hierarchy. Afterwards, an aggressive male was added to the group for the duration of two hours. The "fight or flight" response was produced each time the male mice were fought by the aggressive one.  

"These mice are chronically in that state, so our research question is, 'What happens when you stimulate the sympathetic nervous system over and over and over, or continuously?'," John Sheridan, professor of oral biology in the College of Dentistry and associate director of Ohio State's Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research (IBMR), and co-lead author of the study, said in a news release. "We see deleterious consequences to that." 

Researchers found that this kind of chronic stress changes the activation of genes in immune cells.

"The cells share many of the same characteristics in terms of their response to stress," said Sheridan. "There is a stress-induced alteration in the bone marrow in both our mouse model and in chronically stressed humans that selects for a cell that's going to be pro-inflammatory."

"The mind-body connection is well established, and research has confirmed that stress is associated with health problems," reported OSU. "But the inner workings of that association - exactly how stress can harm health - are still under investigation."

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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