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The disruptive effects of a divorce can extend even to the immune system, the body’s line of defense against disease, according to a recent study at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.
In a study comparing women who had been separated from their husbands for one year or less with women still married, blood tests showed the separated women had a lower level of cells that resist tumors and bacteria, and higher levels of cells indicating susceptibility to virus. The overall pattern indicated a loss of effectiveness in the immune system’s ability to resist disease in the separated women.
The research, reported in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, was done by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a psychologist in the department of psychiatry at the medical college, working with immunologists there.
The more recent the separation and the greater the woman’s atachment to her former spouse, the more impaired her immune function was likely to be. The new study is the first to go beyond reports of illness to measure the functioning of the immune system itself.
The study also showed that marital conflict could have a deteriorating effect on the immune system.