Researchers discovered that when study participants were
asked to ruminate on a stressful incident, their levels of C-reactive protein,
a marker of tissue inflammation, rose. The study is the first time to directly
measure this effect in the body.
“Much of the past work has looked at this in
non-experimental designs. Researchers have asked people to report their
tendency to ruminate, and then looked to see if it connected to physiological
issues. It’s been correlational for the most part,” said Peggy Zoccola, an
assistant professor of psychology at Ohio University.
How the study was
The research team recruited 34 healthy young women to
participate in the project. Each woman was asked to give a speech about her
candidacy for a job to two interviewers in white laboratory coats, who listened
with stone-faced expressions, Zoccola said.
Half of the group was asked to contemplate their performance
in the public speaking task, while the other half was asked to think about
neutral images and activities, such as sailing ships or grocery store trips.
The researchers drew blood samples that showed that the
levels of C-reactive protein were significantly higher in the subjects who were
asked to dwell on the speech, Zoccola reported.
For these participants, the levels of the inflammatory
marker continued to rise for at least one hour after the speech. During the
same time period, the marker returned to starting levels in the subjects who
had been asked to focus on other thoughts.
The C-reactive protein is primarily produced by the liver as
part of the immune system’s initial inflammatory response. It rises in response
to traumas, injuries or infections in the body, Zoccola explained.
C-reative protein is widely used as a clinical marker to
determine if a patient has an infection, but also if he or she may be at risk
for disease later in life.
Inflammation tied to
“More and more, chronic inflammation is being associated
with various disorders and conditions,” Zoccola said. “The immune system plays
an important role in various cardiovascular disorders such as heart disease, as
well as cancer, dementia and autoimmune diseases.”
Zoccola is working with Fabian Benencia in Ohio University’s
Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and Lauren Mente, a registered nurse
and graduate student in the School of Nursing, to investigate the effect of
rumination on additional inflammation markers. In addition, she hopes to study
the issue in other populations, such as older adults, who might be vulnerable
to rumination and health problems.
Study co-authors are Wilson Figueroa, Erin Rabideau and Alex
Woody, all graduate students in the Ohio University Department of Psychology.
This study was supported with funding from the Ohio University Research