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Insecurity in relations affects immune system

Insecurity in close relationships might take a toll on the immune system.

Insecurity in relations affects immune system

Insecurity in close relationships might take a toll on the immune system. Researchers from the Italian National Institute of Health in Rome conducted a study of 61 healthy women, and found that those who had difficulty-establishing close, trusting relationships showed signs of weaker immune function. Whether this means they're more susceptible to disease is not clear. The findings are in line with research showing that chronic stress can impair immunity, and the extent of the impact may depend on how an individual perceives and responds to stress. In short, personality traits may affect immune function. The researchers looked at the trait known as attachment insecurity, characterised by difficulty trusting and depending on others, feeling uncomfortable with emotional intimacy or worrying about being abandoned by loved ones. A person's attachment style forms in childhood, based on a child's relationship with his or her parents. It affects and is further shaped by romantic relationships later in life. So attachment style can be seen as a fairly stable trait that affects a person's response to stressful events. Attachment insecurity, affects people's ability to regulate their own emotions, including how they perceive and deal with stress - which may affect the body's physiological response to stress. For the study, the researchers recruited a random sample of female nurses, who were younger than 60 years old, had no chronic illnesses and no history of major psychiatric disorders. They measured the women's attachment style using standard questionnaires and collected blood samples to study the function of their immune system cells. It was found that women with greater attachment insecurity had lower number of natural killer cells, key defenders against illness. In another research, the researchers found associations between insecure attachment and certain skin diseases related to immune dysfunction. These include plaque psoriasis, a condition where scaly patches form on the skin, and alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes patchy hair loss. However, a causal link between insecure attachment, impaired immunity, and poorer health is far from being proved. It's possible that relationship insecurity alone is not enough to make someone vulnerable to illness, but in conjunction with other factors - like older age or chronic disease - it might be enough to worsen a person's health.
Psychosomatic Medicine,
February 2007
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