Levels of a damaging compound known as a proinflammatory cytokine not only increased considerably faster among those taking care of ailing spouses but also continued to increase faster for years after the spouses died.
A report on the research, conducted by scientists at Ohio State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will appear online Monday afternoon (June 30) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Authors are Drs. Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, Cathie Atkinson, William B. Malarkey and Ronald Glaser of Ohio State's College of Medicine and Drs. Robert C. MacCallum and Kristopher J. Preacher of UNC's department of psychology, College of Arts and Sciences.
"Our study examined effects of a long-term chronic stress situation on overproduction of the cytokine IL-6 in older adults," said MacCallum, director of the L.L. Thurstone Psychometric Laboratory at UNC. "IL-6 is a substance secreted by a variety of cells in the body, including blood cells and bone marrow. Among other things, it is associated with the functioning of the immune system in its response to challenges, as well as the inflammatory response to injury and infection."
As people age, production of IL-6 tends to increase, he said. Overproduction of IL-6 has been linked to a variety of age-related conditions, including cardiovascular disease, arthritis, periodontal disease, frailty and diabetes.
The study involved examining IL-6 levels in two groups of older adults over six years. One group of 119 people consisted of men and women who were caring for a spouse with dementia, usually Alzheimer's disease. The other group consisted of 106 people who were n
Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill