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The Inflammatory Protein, IL6, as a Measure of Psychological Well-Being

Posted Nov 01 2010 12:00am

This might be pushing the envelope a little too far but a recent article correlating psychological well-being, socioeconomic status, long-term health, and Interleukin-6 (IL6) caught my attention (see: Peace of mind closes health gap for less-educated ). Here is an excerpt from it:

Psychological well-being is powerful enough to counteract the pull of socioeconomic status on the long-term health of the disadvantaged....Lack of education is a powerful predictor of future poor health and a relatively early death. But among people whose formal education ended with a high school diploma or less, positive psychological characteristics such as meaningful relationships with others and a sense of purpose have a strong connection with lower levels of an inflammatory protein connected to an array of potentially deadly health problems....The researchers measured levels of Interleukin-6 in participants in the Survey of Midlife in the United States, a now 10-year-long study of age-related differences in physical and mental health. Less-educated people who scored high on measures of general happiness or self-acceptance or who felt that the circumstances of their lives were manageable showed levels of the inflammatory protein comparable to similarly satisfied, but highly-educated peers....The study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging and included UW-Madison psychology professor Chris Coe and Institute on Aging scientist Elliot Friedman, melds two new directions in research: a focus on why socioeconomic inequality has such detrimental health effects for have-nots, and a shift toward scrutinizing the health impacts of positive psychological attributes, in contrast to decades of research linking psychological disorders and maladjustment to poor physical health.

The mind-body axis is still not well understood but continues to be fascinating to many. The fact that levels of the inflammatory protein IL6 are lower among people with less formal education but also with "positive psychological characteristics" is the crux of this report. I am attracted to the idea of analyzing the effects of a person's psychological attitude on his physical well-being even though it does seem a little big-brotherish. However, I will try to put a more positive spin on this idea. Preventive medicine will be one of the most important components of healthcare and one of the "Four P's" that will govern many of our future initiatives to lower healthcare costs and broadly reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases (see: Preventive and Predictive Medicine as Components of the Healthcare Continuum ; The Future of Healthcare and the Four P's: Preventive, Predictive, Personalized, Participatory ). Having some quantitative biologic metric of the effects of preventive medicine programs can thus be very beneficial. For example, taking walks on a routine basis can be useful in a weight reduction program as well as relieving stress. I wonder if such an activity also reduces the levels of inflammatory proteins across time.

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