TUESDAY, Jan. 20, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Social and behavioral factors, such as stress, contribute to more than half of all deaths in the United States.
That's the contention of a Vanderbilt University researcher who reviewed a century's worth of psychological literature on stress, disease and behavioral medicine.
Psychologist Oakley Ray's findings, published in the January issue of American Psychologist, add to the growing body of evidence about the impact of non-biological factors on health.
Recent research has found that stresses that affect the brain can hurt the body at the cellular and molecular level, resulting in diminished health and quality of life. On the other hand, maintaining a positive frame of mind can help people fend off some of these stress effects, combat disease and live longer.
Ray says the challenge is to introduce this new knowledge into the health-care system.
"Knowing how the brain influences peoples' health and susceptibility to illness can bring important changes to the health-care system. Understanding how the mind, the endocrine system, the nervous system and immune system all interact is crucial in helping people conquer the stress in their lives and stay healthy," Ray says in a prepared statement.
As an example, he cites a study that found a large number of medical students became ill with upper respiratory tract infections close to their exam period.
"This study shows how stress levels can overwhelm a person's ability to cope and increase their risk for infectious disease," Ray says.
Here's where you can learn more about how stress affects the body.