A study at Duke University Medical Center found that older people who attended religious services at least once a week were about half as likely as those who do not attend services weekly to have elevated levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6).
This measure is a protein that indicates the presence of inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been implicated in most major chronic disease states, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. This decreased level of IL-6 translates into a healthier immune system enjoyed by the those with regular attendance at their religious community.
The researchers factored into the study outcomes health conditions experienced by the study subjects. These included depression, chronic illness, and negative life events—all of which the researchers identified as likely to affect immune status. Even with these conditions, the improvement to the immune system in those who attended services weekly, was evidenced.
These findings identified that religion or participation in a spiritual life community may affect immune function through better coping skills, psychosocial factors, and the mechanisms by which organized religion promotes positive thoughts and behaviors.
There may also be other factors at play as well. Feelings of belonging to a community, shared values, as well as the togetherness of worshiping with others may be at the cause and effect of these findings.
These positive feelings appear to counteract stress and provide a positive effect on the mind/body communication, which has been demonstrated in clinical studies to have a persistent affect on the immune function of individuals with a positive outlook and upbeat attitude as a way of dealing with stressful situations.
This study also raises the inquiry that there may be a factor of loneliness, experienced by older Americans to a larger extend than do younger populations, that may be part of the healing effect of the weekly spiritual community attendance.
With all good wishes,
Copyright 2010 G. Donadio