Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Anger and wound healing

We've discussed wound healing before. Now more interesting research from the laboratory of Kiecolt-Glaser in Ohio State University.

Gouin, J.-P. et al., The influence of anger expression on wound healing, Brain Behav. Immun. (2007) doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2007.10.013.
Abstract:
Certain patterns of anger expression have been associated with maladaptive alterations in cortisol secretion, immune functioning, and surgical recovery. We hypothesized that outward and inward anger expression and lack of anger control would be associated with delayed wound healing. A sample of 98 community-dwelling participants received standardized blister wounds on their non-dominant forearm. After blistering, the wounds were monitored daily for 8 days to assess speed of repair. Logistic regression was used to distinguish fast and slow healers based on their anger expression pattern. Individuals exhibiting lower levels of anger control were more likely to be categorized as slow healers. The anger control variable predicted wound repair over and above differences in hostility, negative affectivity, social support, and health behaviors. Furthermore, participants with lower levels of anger control exhibited higher cortisol reactivity during the blistering procedure. This enhanced cortisol secretion was in turn related to longer time to heal. These findings suggest that the ability to regulate the expression of one’s anger has a clinically relevant impact on wound healing.
They conclude
...this is the first study showing that difficulty in anger regulation can lead to delayed healing. Furthermore, an exacerbated cortisol response to stress appears to explain the relationship between lower anger control and wound repair, although other physiological pathways may mediate the association between anger regulation and healing.
Media report here.

3 comments:

Dana Warsh said...

This may have some bearing on it.
Similarily, they say when a person
is diagnosed with cancer for example; Positive attitude and a strong loveing support group can absolutely make a difference in the recovery and healing process. I am a survivor myself, and I can tell you that it does hold water as they say. My family and support group of friends etc. made a world of differnce.
Keep best foot forward

Dana W.

victor said...

those whoese wounds healed quickest kept best tabs on their anger ...are you impying that managing ones anger leads to quicker healing?
is it not possible(perhaps more logical) that those with a "healthy" level of anger are actually healthier individuals and thus heal quicker i.e. you are less inclined to have "anger level problems" if you are already healthy (the original "anger-level problem maybe originating in ill health ,poor physiological functioning)

david said...

Victor, I'm not implying anything, I'm just reporting some research in the field. I think you raise an interesting point about the causal direction. Apparently we find correlated the two variables - anger expression level and wound healing times. More is needed to establish a causal effect from the first to the second.

One should always consider a common cause for two correlated variables. Perhaps a common physiological state causes variation in both variables, as you suggest.

If you could, you'd want to intervene on the first variable and see how it affects the second. Not so easy, of course. Perhaps in the act of intervening on this first variable, you unintentionally affect a hidden common variable.

Something you might try is to interfere with the means of anger expression. If my anger levels are very affected by the presence/absence of a specific individual, it would be interesting to find how their presence or absence affected the healing time.

This suggests to me that more investigations where few subjects are studied in greater psychological detail would be beneficial, and that something is being missed by the drive to process as many people as possible to give a study the air of being 'scientific'.