Previous studies have shown that chronic exposure to stress, anxiety, and negative emotions can have an impact on physical health of individuals. Now a new study finds that negative moods can also have an adverse effect on the functioning of the immune system and that feelings of distress can raise the risk of cardiovascular events, such as stroke.
For the study, researchers at Pennsylvania State University in the US used questionnaires that asked participants that included people from diverse ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, to record their feelings over time and in the moment. These assessments took place over two weeks and allowed the team to map out the participants’ emotional profiles. The scientists also assessed the immune response of the volunteers by collecting blood samples from them and looking for markers of inflammation.
The study found that negative moods may change the way in which the immune response functions, and could lead to an increased risk of exacerbated inflammation. Individuals who experienced negative moods several times per day for extended periods of time tended to have higher levels of inflammation biomarkers in their blood.
The scientists also noted that if they collected blood samples from participants soon after they had experienced a negative emotion such as sadness or anger, inflammation biomarkers were all the more present in the blood.
Generally, inflammation occurs as part of the body’s natural immune response to infections or wounds. However, high levels of inflammation are associated with poor health and a range of chronic conditions, such as arthritis.
The study also found that experiencing positive moods — even for a short while before the collection of a blood sample — was associated with lower inflammation levels. However, this was only true for male participants in this study where.
However, the scientists were cautious about their findings, pointing out that more research would be needed to confirm the association between both momentary and long-term mood reports and measures of inflammation. In the future, they hope that this and similar studies may allow specialists to come up with better strategies to improve mood and thus protect aspects of physical health.