reduces Testosterone in men. Today I blog about the relationship between parenting and immune function.
Can parenting boost the immune system?
My initial gut reaction to this question (through my tired, blood-shot eyes) was that parenting has to reduce immune function--after all, parents are exposed to little disease vectors (i.e., children) all day long who put their sticky little hands all over everything and then all over your face and eyes. That combined with the reduced sleep that parents experience has to disrupt the immune system in some way--at least that was my initial reaction.
Well, no. That's not it at all--at least according to a 2012 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine. In the research, a group of 795 participants were exposed to one of four common cold viruses and then monitored for a period of about one week. Participants were surveyed for their parental status, demographic characteristics, employment status, age, etc... Participants ranged in age from 18-59.
When the researchers compared parents to non-parents matched for age, education, employment, body mass, sex, race/ethnicity, and marital status, they found a protective effect of parenting on immune function: Specifically, parents were significantly less likely to develop cold symptoms one week later in comparison to their matched non-parents. This occurred for nearly all groups of parents--including even empty nest parents whose children live away from home.
The researchers only speculate about the reason why parenting might predict reduced susceptibility to cold-causing viruses. One explanation is that parents might be exposed to more colds and over time, develop immunity to many of these common viruses. A second explanation is that parenting is associated with a number of third variables (e.g., agreeableness) that is associated with longevity in other research. A third explanation is that parenting, in other research, is associated with greater life-satisfaction and meaning-in-life, and it might be through this pathway, that parenting exerts protective benefits on immune functioning (e.g., people feel better about their lives, and so the immune system is boosted).
Whatever the cause, these results are one of the positive life benefits of entering the domain of parenthood. I'm currently enjoying my experience and my elevated immune functioning! How has parenting impacted your immune system?
Sneed, R., Cohen, S., Turner, R., & Doyle, W. (2012). Parenthood and Host Resistance to the Common Cold Psychosomatic Medicine, 74 (6), 567-573 DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31825941ff