How a bad relationship can make you ill – by damaging your immune system
People stressed about their relationship produced 11 per cent more of the stress hormone cortisol
They also had fewer T-cells, an important part of the immune system's defence against infection
18:49 GMT, 18 February 2013
19:03 GMT, 18 February 2013
Feeling anxious about close relationships could make you fall ill – by damaging your immune system.
Not only does anxiety appear to raise levels of stress hormones in the body, it also makes it less effective at fighting off illness.
Researchers at Ohio Sate University tested the
health effects of 'attachment anxiety' on 85 couples who had been married for an average of more than 12 years.
People with relationship woes had higher levels of cortisol – a hormone associated with stress and increased risk of disease
People with attachment anxiety are defined as being
excessively concerned about rejection.
They also have a tendency to constantly
seek reassurance that they are
loved, and are more likely to interpret ambiguous events in a
relationship as negative, the researchers said.
questionnaires about their relationships and had samples of blood and saliva taken.
This was so levels of a key stress-related hormone and
numbers of certain immune cells could be tested.
The participants also reported general anxiety symptoms and their sleep quality.
Of particular interest were people considered to be at the high end
of the attachment anxiety spectrum.
The researchers found that people with high attachment anxiety produced, on average, 11 per
cent more cortisol – a hormone associated with stress – than those who weren't so anxious.
They also had fewer T-cells, important components of the immune system's defence against infection
They also found that the more anxious people were also less able to fight off infection, as they had up to 22 per cent T- cells than less anxiously attached partners.
Incidentally, while more women in the study suffered from higher levels of attachment anxiety, the researchers saw the same elevated levels of cortisol and lower T-cells in the men who were anxious.
Stress is already known to negatively affect health, but this study aimed to look specifically at relationship anxiety.
And while more women in the study suffered from higher levels of attachment anxiety, the researchers saw the same elevated levels of cortisol and lower T-cells in the men who were anxious.
Lead study author Lisa Jaremka said: 'Everyone has these types of concerns
now and again in their relationships, but a high level of attachment
anxiety refers to people who have these worries fairly constantly in
most of their relationships.'
Though some scientists believe that attachment anxiety can be traced back to childhood, Dr Jaremka noted that people who feel anxious can change, over time.
'It's not necessarily a permanent state of existence,' she said in the study published in the journal Psychological Science.