U.S. researchers have yet more proof that an unhappy marriage is bad for your health.
It seems that the stress that arises from arguments appears to slow the initial production of a blood protein that is a key to the healing of wounds.
Ohio State University researchers have found that quarreling couples who were studied in a laboratory setting, had a slower wound healing process than when they were not arguing.
This was measured by how rapidly blisters, which were deliberately inflicted, healed.
The blisters were created by using a vacuum pump on the arm.
The researchers say that couples who demonstrated consistently high levels of hostile behaviour healed at 60 percent of the rate of less hostile couples.
There is apparently already a sizable body of research showing that marital disagreement causes adverse health impacts, ranging from high blood pressure and depression to the ability to cope with heart disease and heart failure.
But this study shows that although the loss of a spouse can provoke adverse mental and physical health changes, the simple presence of a spouse is not necessarily protective, and a troubled marriage is in itself a prime source of stress.
The Ohio State study involved 42 married couples, aged 22 to 77.
They were tested twice, first in a social setting and then again when they were told to get into disagreements.
The authors say that stress appeared to slow the local, wound-site production of proinflammatory cytokines, a protein molecules produce by white blood cells that play a key role in the early stages of healing.
But the study also found that couples with high degrees of conflict had higher levels of the same cytokines generally in the bloodstream the morning after an argument, compared to those who were not in as much disagreement.
The authors say that while greater early production at wound sites is beneficial, a higher systemic level is harmful.
The study says in conclusion that elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines have been linked to a variety of age-related disease, including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis and certain cancers, as well as frailty and functional decline.They believe inflammatory activation can enhance the development of depression.
The report is published in the December issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.