Psychosocial Factors, Immunity,
and Wound Healing
HAROLD G. KOENIG & HARVEY JAY COHEN
In this chapter we review the work of Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ron Glaser, and others who have examined the effects of psychological stress and social support on immune functioning and wound healing. This area of research is of particular importance because of its potentially wide clinical application. If either individual or group support has an impact on immune function, the public health implications would be enormous. Likewise, if psychological stress affects wound healing in a clinically significant way, then stress-reducing interventions before and after surgical operations might significantly affect the speed of postsurgical recovery. We also explore in this chapter how such research advances may help inform future studies of the religion-health relationship and propose a number of research avenues to pursue. If religious involvement enhances social support and reduces stress, then investigations that explore the relationship between religion and immunity, wound healing, and postsurgical recovery may be worth pursuing.
Social support has been shown to modify the psychological consequences of stress, thereby preventing or ameliorating adverse psychological outcomes such as depression (George, 1992; Uchino et al., 1996). Social isolation, in contrast, increases emotional distress that may lead to neuroendocrine and immune system changes that impair physical health. Studies in both nonhuman primates and humans bear this out. Sapolsky