Stress in the family can affect children’s immune systems

A high level of stress in the family can lead to the child’s immune system being affected, a new study by researchers at the School of Health Sciences in Jönköping and Linköping University shows.
The human body is equipped to handle everyday short-term stress. On the other hand, a difficult, stressful situation or long-term increase in stress can negatively affect the immune system. One example is losing a family member, or not feeling in control of a situation.

Creates an imbalance

The results of the research study now being published in Journal of Immunology shows that children in highly-stressed families had a high level of cortisol, which is a biological measurement of stress. By analysing a range of markers, the researchers show that a high level of stress not only suppresses the immune system, but also creates an imbalance that can contribute to an autoimmune reaction against insulin-producing beta cells.

The study included families with five-year-old children. The parents responded to questions about stress, and also got to indicate which difficult life events affected the family, for example divorce or unemployment. Based on the responses to the questions, a group of children where they could expect to find a high level of stress in the family, and a group of children where they expected the level of stress to be more normal, were identified.

Article: Psychological stress in children may alter the immune response by Emma Carlsson, Anneli Frostell, Johnny Ludvigsson and Maria Faresjö. Journal of Immunology 5 February 2014, DOI: 10.4049/jimmunol.1301713.

Maria Faresjö, professor of Biomedical Science at the School of Medicine in Jönköping