Outline and Evaluate the Relationship Between Stress and the Immune System

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Stress is a subjective experience between a person and their environment caused by stressors, for example, exams and relationships. There are many studies that have found that stress could actually affect the efficiency of the immune system. The immune system is a system of cells within the body that defends the body from antigens. White blood cells, also known as leucocytes, are the cells made in the bone marrow that defend the body against infection and illness. Most studies focusing on acute stressors have found a decrease in immune cell function while others have shown an increase, for example, Fischer (1972) found higher lymphocyte counts in Apollo astronauts during the splashdown, suggesting that acute stress could actually lead to an increase in immune system activity. Kiecolt-Glaser studied further on acute stress and examination stress. In this study, blood samples were taken one month before the exam where there was low sress, and also during the exam period where there was high stress. The immune system functioning was assessed by measuring the NK cell activity in the blood samples; if one has low NK cell activity, they are more susceptible to being ill. Participants were also asked to complete a questionnaire to see if they were experiencing any other type of stress. Kiecolt-Glaser found that NK cell activity was reduced in the second blood sample compared to the one taken one month before the exams, an implication of this finding is that short term stressors reduce immune system functioning, increasing vulnerability to illness. It was also found that students who reported the highest levels of loneliness had the lowest NK cell activity. Kiecolt-Glaser’s study on examination stress was supported by Marucha (1998) who looked at the rate in which wounds healed. Marucha inflicted a ‘punch biopsy’ in the mouth of students either during the summer holidays
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