• * 7/24/2002
  • New York
  • Rueters Health

A number of studies have suggested stress can hinder the body’s immune system defenses. Now researchers say people may be able to fight back with the stress-relieving techniques of self-hypnosis. In a study of medical students under exam-time stress, investigators found that those who received “hypnotic-relaxation training” did not show the same reduction in key immune system components that their untrained counterparts did. Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues at Ohio State University in Columbus reported the findings recently in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

The researchers looked at 33 medical and dental students during relatively low-stress periods and around the time of the first major exam of the term. Half of the students attended sessions where they learned to relax through self-hypnosis. Kiecolt-Glaser’s team took blood samples from all students at the start of the study and just before exams. They exposed the samples to foreign substances in order to observe the activity of T cells and other immune system defenses. The investigators found that during exam time, the self-hypnosis students launched stronger immune responses compared with students who did not learn the technique. And the more often students practiced the relaxation strategy, the stronger their immune response.

In previous studies, Kiecolt-Glaser and her colleagues have found that stressful times may impair the body’s wound-healing process and response to vaccination. They and other researchers have also found that relaxation techniques may combat these effects by relieving stress and boosting the immune system. “The data from this study provide encouraging evidence that interventions may reduce the immunological dysregulation associated with acute stressors,” they write.

The authors add that some of the strongest evidence for the benefits of self-hypnosis, in particular, comes from studies of surgical patients. This work has suggested the technique can reduce patients’ pain and anxiety, shorten hospital stays and speed recovery. “Given the substantial consequences of stress for wound repair,” the researchers conclude, “even small diminutions in stress or anxiety among surgery patients could have substantial clinical consequences.” SOURCE: Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 2001;69.

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