Are Your Dating Habits Lowering Immunity?
- 7 Mins Read
- Written by: Jillian Lai Mei Siew
Love, immune system, and the science behind it
Starting with some proof, reports suggest that falling in love is one of the most mentally stimulating and psychologically potent experiences in human life. New romantic love is accompanied both by many mental and physical changes, but all in a good way. Sharing is caring! Well, that’s true here, because, when you’re in a relationship, you might well share diets, sleeping habits, exercise schedules with your partner. This means that your immune system also becomes a joint affair when you live together.
For science nerds, the immune system is unique for every human being on this planet. It usually differs in the number and type of immune cells and their activation which helps us give the necessary fighting ability to fend off diseases and infections. Due to such differences, now you know why the same flu virus can make a person ill for just a day or so, but leave another person to stay in bed for days. Get it?
In a recent study, scientists studied the effects of stress, different moods, and relationship in a group of over 600 people over 6 months. They took measures of their blood samples and the difference in the amount of the helpful immune cells. They found out that the health and immune profiles tended to be remarkably stable. Even when disturbed or given stress, they returned to a normal level as before. E.g. when people caught a digestive disease, had a flu vaccine, or had a bad mood their immune systems were only temporarily disturbed before returning to normal. Well, the conclusion from the study is that our immune system deals effectively with any stress and then recovers well.
The same team of researchers also found an interesting pattern that people who live together have similar immune systems. With such remarkable similarity, the variations we just talked about get reduced by a direct 50% and hence lesser chance to get sick1. Also, it gets better as you age as well. So, stay together and love each other. But how does this happen? Is there any specific pattern or how does one know that they’re doing the right thing?
It’s all in the family
There’s a term called spousal concordance, which means that people in relationships tend to adopt similar diets and lifestyles. E.g. partner of a teetotal person is most likely “not to drink”. This shared environment is the reason why our immune systems start converging together. Let’s read about the evidence that proves it. Exposure to pollution can affect the immune system pretty badly, and two people living together are likely to have similar exposures. Scientists believe that the immune systems of living couples could be shaped by sharing common viruses. Now you know how deep is the effect of love on health.
Dating apps and health
Getting to know one another in the modern world is mainly done through dating apps3. These apps help you find a person with a similar interest to yours and help you get together. If all goes fine, it results in a healthy love relationship which may be good or bad for your health. In one study, it was found that women who fell in love had an increased ability to fight viral infections, compared to that of the beginning of the study. Surprisingly, no such change was observed in women who did not fall in love. Since most viruses are spread by close contact, it could be anticipated that a future intimate contact can have a positive effect on health and the immune system.
But there are some pitfalls to that as well. Not all relationships take a healthy turn and can lead to increased stress and suffering if not taken care of. This is mainly due to rejection as it can make you fearful of getting social again and also increase your anxiety levels and can lead to depression. Always consult a friend, doctor, or a family member in case of rejections or failed relationships.
7 proven benefits of healthy relationships
Since we’ve talked about the science behind how love, health, and immunity are connected. Let’s find out some proven health benefits from sharing a healthy relationship.
Studies suggest that people in a relationship stay healthier and longer when married. Reasons are reduced stress, giving up bad habits such as smoking and drinking. As a result, healthy habits get incorporated into our lives and we live longer5. Simple as that!
Patients with some deadly diseases often heal better due to strong social support from partners, friends, or family, or even support from a lovely pet animal. This support helps our body reduce stress levels and especially the stress hormones, like cortisol.
Lower blood pressure (but in a good sense)
Finding love can make your heart skip a beat, but that safe and secure feeling of a positive relationship helps reduce anxiety and keeps your blood pressure in check as well. Moreover, people in love are more relaxed and more likely to engage in exercise or other activities beneficial to the heart and body.
One thing never fails, i.e. the moment we experience high-stress levels, be it from work or personal conflicts, a cold is sure to follow. But on the flip side, studies say that people who engage in positive, supportive relationships produce more of the happy hormone named “oxytocin” and seem less likely to get anxiety and depression.
New lovey-dovey romantic relationships are helpful in weight loss and good health since we want to look and act our best for the special someone. Isn’t that right? A flurry of compliments to maintain our physical appearance can lead to long-term fitness. Loving support can give you a much-needed boost to stay on your fitness track.
Good heart health
Your main squeeze can make your heart race, which is good for you as the heart gets a healthy workout. Those feelings of love cause your brain to release some chemicals in your body like dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, which make your heart go faster and make you stronger in response to such emotions.
Movies have shown us that a heroin trouble can endure extreme pain just by getting a mental picture of his/her true love. He/she endures it for the sake of true love. Ever seen that? You’d be surprised because it turns out that one could probably endure such pain or emotions, when in love. A behavioral study showed that presenting some romantic pictures of a romantic partner helped reduce some experimentally-induced pain. By contrast, showing the suffering participants random photos of attractive people didn’t show any pain endurance.
In summary, yes, loving relationships can make us healthy and happy. With all the science behind it and the tips given in this piece, it must encourage you to get back in shape and be lovelier to people than ever before. So, stay happy, go ahead and take that free hug! It’s good for you.
- Murray, D. R., Haselton, M. G., Fales, M., & Cole, S. W. (2019). Falling in love is associated with immune system gene regulation. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 100, 120-126. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.09.043
- Carr, E. J., Dooley, J., Garcia-Perez, J. E., Lagou, V., Lee, J. C., Wouters, C., … & Liston, A. (2016). The cellular composition of the human immune system is shaped by age and cohabitation. Nature immunology, 17(4), 461-468. https://doi.org/10.1038/ni.3371
- Holtzhausen, N., Fitzgerald, K., Thakur, I., Ashley, J., Rolfe, M., & Pit, S. W. (2020). Swipe-based dating applications use and its association with mental health outcomes: a cross-sectional study. BMC psychology, 8(1), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-020-0373-1
- Albury, K., McCosker, A., Pym, T., & Byron, P. (2020). Dating apps as public health ‘problems’: cautionary tales and vernacular pedagogies in news media. Health Sociology Review, 29(3), 232-248. https://doi.org/10.1080/14461242.2020.1777885
- McGill, J., Adler-Baeder, F., & Rodriguez, P. (2016). Mindfully in love: A meta-analysis of the association between mindfulness and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, 4(1). https://www.jhseonline.com/article/view/623
- Rook, D. (2018). For the love of Darcie: recognizing the human-companion animal relationship in housing law and policy. Liverpool Law Review, 39(1), 29-46. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10991-018-9209-y
- Li, T., Wang, P., Wang, S. C., & Wang, Y. F. (2017). Approaches mediating oxytocin regulation of the immune system. Frontiers in immunology, 7, 693. https://dx.doi.org/10.3389%2Ffimmu.2016.00693
- Younger, J., Aron, A., Parke, S., Chatterjee, N., & Mackey, S. (2010). Viewing pictures of a romantic partner reduces experimental pain: Involvement of neural reward systems. PloS one, 5(10), e13309. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0013309