Exploring the mind -body connection: Spirituality, religiosity, and immune functioning in patients with terminal cancer

Colleen McClain Jacobson, Fordham University


The evidence suggesting that spirituality and religiosity influence both psychological and physical health is growing. Despite increased interest and enthusiasm among behavioral and social sciences, the mechanism through which religiosity and spirituality might affect physical health is not clear. A handful of studies have recently provided support for the hypothesis that religiosity and spirituality may affect health via the immune system. The current study sought to expand this literature base by exploring the relationships among spirituality, religiosity, and immune functioning in a group of men and women with advanced cancer. Immune functioning was measured by the level of interleukin-6 values in patients' blood plasma. Spirituality was assessed with the Functional Assessment of Chronis Illness Therapy Spiritual Well-Being Scale and religiosity was assessed with the Age Universal I/E Scale. Additional measures included the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM IV-Depression module, the Functional Social Support Questionnaire, and the Karnofsky Performance Rating Scale. Seventy three men (n = 25) and women (n = 48) completed a psychosocial interview and allowed their blood to be assayed. Seventy six percent of the sample was Caucasian with 17.8% African-American, 2% Hispanic, and 2% Asian. Initial results failed to identify significant associations between IL-6 values and religiosity or spirituality. Further, there was no correlation between depression and IL-6. Exploratory analyses indicated that the time between interview completion and blood draw affected the relationships among IL-6 and the psychosocial variables. Specifically, the correlations between IL-6 and each of the main variables [spirituality r(7) = −.48, religiosity r(7) = −.59, and depression r(9) = .68] were highest among the group of patients who had blood drawn within 48 hours of the study interview and decreased as lag-time increased. In conclusion, although no association between religiosity/spirituality and immune functioning was identified among the whole sample, correlations in the moderate range were identified among spirituality and IL-6 and religiosity and IL-6 among those who had blood drawn close to interview completion, thus indicating that higher levels of spirituality and religiosity and likely linked to better immune functioning. Further research using more appropriate methodology is needed in this area to clarify this speculation.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Psychobiology|Mental health

Recommended Citation

Jacobson, Colleen McClain, "Exploring the mind -body connection: Spirituality, religiosity, and immune functioning in patients with terminal cancer" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3169401.