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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1999 Sep;54(9):M434-9.

Life stress, mood disturbance, and elevated interleukin-6 in healthy older women.

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Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, USA.



Although adverse effects of severe chronic stress on immunocompetence and physical well-being in older adults have been reported, the immune response to less severe life stress among healthy older adults, particularly among women, is not well understood. Interleukin-6 (IL-6) has been considered a good overall indicator of immune functioning in older adults because of its contribution to the pathogenesis of several age-related conditions such as osteoporosis. Regulation of IL-6 is impaired in elderly adults, and levels of IL-6 increase with stress and depression. This research cross-sectionally examined levels of IL-6 in three groups of healthy older women with varying levels of life stress and mood disturbance and a healthy group of young women.


Subjects included 18 caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, 17 older women assessed one month before relocation of their residence, 15 nonmoving and noncaregiving older women, and 20 younger women. Subjects completed the Profile of Mood States (POMS) and had early morning blood draws.


Alzheimer's caregivers reported significantly greater distress than women of all other groups. IL-6 levels in caregivers were significantly higher than those of all other women. The older women had significantly higher IL-6 than young controls, but there were no significant differences in IL-6 between movers and older controls. Among all women, greater depression and distress were related to higher levels of IL-6.


These findings suggest that in older women, chronic stressors are associated with significant elevations in IL-6 over and above the elevations associated with normal aging, but that moderate stressors may not be related to appreciable elevations in IL-6.

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