Fight With Your Lover? Your Words Can Affect Your Health

LATIMES.COM | LEE DYE | 11/18/09

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Fighting with your lover? If you use the wrong words, you could prolong the conflict, jeopardizing your own health as well as that of your partner. But use the right words thoughtfully and you not only have a better chance of ending the conflict, you can actually reduce the health hazard, according to new research.

Pennsylvania State University researchers have found a "physiological marker" showing that words can have a significant impact on a person's health. Scientists have known for at least a decade that stress can cause a rise in proteins that have been linked to cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, arthritis and some cancers.

But psychologist Jennifer Graham at Penn State reports that choosing words that reflect thoughtfulness, or rationality, or perhaps just caring, can reduce the increase in proteins, called cytokines, such as Interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha. During stress, those proteins normally go up, thus impairing the immune system.

This is the first study in my knowledge to look at changes in these proteins in response to particular words used in conversation," Graham said in a telephone interview. "That is novel."

Graham returned to data collected while she was a post-doctoral fellow at Ohio State University for her latest analysis. In that earlier project, led by the husband and wife team of Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser and Ronald Glaser, 42 couples participated in an extensive research project into the rise of those proteins during marital conflict.

Protein Levels Rise Under Stress

The couples took part in two 24-hour sessions, at least two weeks apart, and blood was drawn before and after each session. In the first session, the couples discussed a wide range of subjects, including conflict in their marriage. In the second session, they were asked to focus on a subject that had been particularly contentious. The blood tests showed a rise in cytokines during the second session.

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