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Stress can Affect Children’s Immune System, Study Reports

Update Date: Feb 19, 2014 02:47 PM EST

Stress can negatively affect physical and mental health especially if it is poorly managed. Since young children have a harder time dealing with stress, they are often at risk of suffering the negative consequences from it. According to a new study, high family stress could also jeopardize a child's immune system.

For this study, the researchers from the School of Health Sciences at Jönköping University and the Faculty of Health Sciences at Linköping University in Sweden examined five-year-old children from the All Children in Southeast Sweden (ABIS) study. The researchers measured the children's stress level based on their cortisol levels. Cortisol has been identified as a biological marker of stress.

The researchers questioned parents about any stress and difficulties that they faced or were currently facing at the time. Some stressful factors included going through a divorce or dealing with unemployment. Based from these self-reports, the researchers categorized the children into two groups, which were high stress and normal stress. The team discovered that children dealing with high levels of stress also had higher levels of cortisol.

Stress has been associated with one's immune system. The researchers reported that long-term stress could hamper the immune system. When the immune system is compromised, children have a higher risk of contracting illnesses caused by bacteria or viruses. Children would also have a harder time fighting off these infections.

"These young people can themselves report negative experiences in their daily lives and also negative experiences during their childhood" commented Maria Faresjö, professor at the School of Health Sciences, which will also lead the continued research project according to Medical Xpress.

The research team plans on studying the effects of high stress levels for young adults between the ages of 18 and 22. The study, "Psychological Stress in Children May Alter the Immune Response," was published in the Journal of Immunology.

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