Fun and Good Company Are Good for Immune Function

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

As a general rule, we know more about the bad than about the good. Medical science knows more about the illness than about the health. Psychology and psychiatry knows more about the negative emotions, such as the anger, hate, and fear than about the healthy emotions, such as the forgiveness, love, and courage. Likewise, we know more about the mental emotional states which impair the immune function than about the ones that strengthen it.

It is now a common knowledge that major life events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, separation, or loss of a job, can significantly impair our immune function. But we have just begun to discover that the events do not have to be earth shattering, major traumatic events to weaken our disease fighting ability. A new study suggests that the small every day negative events can weaken our immune function on a day to day basis. By the same token, small everyday positive events can strengthen our immune function.

In this study, one hundred married men were asked to keep a detailed record of both the pleasant and unpleasant daily experiences and moods. {Why they only took married men and not married women for the study, beats me.) At any rate, the immune function was measured through the saliva. By this method, scientists can measure our resistance to fight common colds because saliva has good stuff, called sIgA, which is bad for the invading viruses from the outside . SIG is produced in the mouth and the breathing passage and acts as the first line of defense against common cold viruses.

Saliva samples were collected each day for three months so that an objective and measurable

record could be maintained of the body's resistance to fight common colds. By keeping a daily record of pleasant and unpleasant experiences and moods and the measurement of immune function, researchers could very closely study the relationship between the daily events and the immune function.

The results of the study show that undesirable events of the day weakened the immune function on the day of the event. For example, if there was particularly more pressure at work that day, the immune function was lowered for about the whole day. On the other hand, desirable events, such as a joyous occasion, a family celebration, having friends over, etc., elevated the immune system for the next one to two days.

The negative effect of pressure and stress on our immune function lasts only a day while the pleasurable events have a salutary effect which lasts almost twice longer. This finding clearly suggests what we need to do more of .

'The study also demonstrated a specific relationship between ordinary day to day moods and feelings and the immune function. Hostility, nervousness, irritability and guilt were associated with weakened immune function. Positive moods, such as positive excitement, enthusiasm, and pride, elevated the immune function. The fluctuations in the mood and feelings that we all experience as a fact of life was related to the fluctuations in the immune function.

This is the first scientific evidence that immune function is measurably increased or decreased depending on the pleasant or unpleasant experiences and moods. Some scientists while acknowledging that changes in sIgA antibody occur with the changes in the mood, feelings, and stress level, may argue that it does not really make a difference whether we catch a cold or not. But there are other studies that tell us that people exposed to high levels of stress, or when they have very little of pleasant events in their daily life, tend to develop more upper respiratory infections when exposed to cold viruses. Perhaps the lowering of the immune function allows the viruses to get a "foot in the door", and then the nuisances such as sore throat, sneezing and running nose may come like the uninvited guests .

The good news is that the ordinary positive events have an impact on our immune function that lasts anywhere between 24 to 48 hours. If we have enough of laughter, fun, and good company, we can offset the ill-effect of minor hassles. It appears that the celebrations, festivities, fun and good company of family and friends booster some aspects of the immune function which may in some ways be beneficial to our overall health.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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