Parents Are Less Likely to Catch a Cold
A new study has found that being a parent significantly reduces your risk of catching a common cold. Researchers behind the study suggest that this may be caused by unknown psychological or behavioural differences between parents and non-parents.
The study, which appears in the July issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, the official journal of the American Psychosomatic Society, found that parenthood reduces the risk of becoming ill after exposure to common cold viruses by about half, regardless of pre-existing immunity.
The researchers analysed data of 795 adults from three previous studies that looked at how stress and social factors affected susceptibility to the common cold. Healthy volunteers were given nose drops that contained rhinovirus or influenza viruses that cause cold. About a third of the volunteers developed clinical colds after being exposed to the virus.
Significantly, it was found that parents were 52 per cent less likely to develop colds compared to other healthy volunteers.
In fact, this protective effect of parenthood appeared to increase along with the number of children. Parents who were no longer living with their children were at an even lower risk of catching a cold, with a 73 per cent reduction in risk after exposure. The risk of colds was significantly lower for parents in all age groups except parents between the ages of 18 to 23 years, for whom there was no difference in the risk of colds compared to non-parents.
The researchers write that the protective effect of parenthood is independent of parental immunity, when parents develop protective antibodies against specific viruses that are causing their kids to get colds. They explains that, having studied the sample’s levels of antibodies to viruses, parents were less likely to develop colds whether or not they had protective levels of antibodies, suggesting that psychological or behavioural factors could be involved.
One possible explanation, according to the researchers, is that being a parent somehow improves the body’s regulation of immune factors like cytokines—which are triggered in response to infections.
However, more research will be needed to clarify exactly how parenthood actually affects the body’s response to cold viruses.