Although stress is known to modulate the inflammatory response, there has been little experimental examination of the effects of stress and stress reduction on inflammation in humans. In particular, the effects of stress and relaxation on neurogenic inflammation have been minimally studied. This study examines the effects of three experimental manipulations: mental stress, relaxation, and control on the local inflammatory response evoked by the intradermal injection of capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers.
Fifty subjects (28 men and 22 women) were pretrained in relaxation using an imagery-based relaxation tape and then randomized to experimental condition. Subjects participated in an evening reactivity session including 20 minutes of a stress (Stroop test), relaxation (tape), or control (video) manipulation, followed by a capsaicin injection in the forearm. Digitized flare measurements were taken for 1 hour postcapsaicin, and measurements of cardiovascular variables, cortisol, adrenocorticotrophic hormone, and norepinephrine were taken at regular intervals.
The size of the maximum capsaicin-induced flare was significantly smaller in the relaxation condition than in the stress or control conditions, which did not differ from each other. Increases in norepinephrine, heart rate, and systolic blood pressure during the experimental task, but not after capsaicin, significantly predicted size of maximum flare and total area under the curve of flare measurements.
These findings suggest that stress reduction may affect local inflammatory processes. Results are consistent with sympathetic modulation of the effects of relaxation on the flare response.