Caregiver Stress May Predict Skin and Allergic Disorders in Children

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- Compelling research supports the link between psychological stress and specific skin and allergic disorders, Dr. Rosalind J. Wright said at a dermatology symposium sponsored by Cornell University.

"There is huge biological plausibility to think that there is this psycho-neuro-cutaneous-immunology link to suggest that there is interconnection between these systems, and one important effector organ is the skin," said Dr. Wright of the department of society, human development, and health at Harvard School of Public Health, Boston.

Atopic dermatitis shows dysregulation of the responsiveness of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. "Studies done across the age spectrum show that inpatients with atopic dermatitis seem to have a blunted cortisol response to different types of challenges" when compared with nonatopic dermatitis patients, said Dr. Wright, also of Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Atopic dermatitis is known to start in early childhood. The early experiences shape the stress vulnerability of the older child and adult later in life. "Not only early childhood, but even prenatal exposure to stress is a very critical period of development," she said.

"There is huge plasticity of the HPA axis early in life. Early experiences in rat experiments--and this has been done in humans as well--also with respect to prenatal stress, show programming of the HPA response in the child postnatally. In animal experiments, social buffering of newborns by the mother seems to dampen the cortisol response," Dr. Wright said.

In human studies, there seems to be a parallel response. Exposing mothers to stress has been demonstrated to alter the immune function of their children, she noted. …

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