Do Slightly Angry Men Really Have Better Immune Systems?

  • 6 Mins Read
  • Wellbeing
  • Written by: Dr. Pramod Mane
Better Immune Systems

Does anger make you immune? Let’s dive!

Emotions and the immune system are deep-rooted and connected which may have profound positive or negative effects on immunity. If we talk about emotional problems causing poor immunity, the most affecting ones are different human behaviors such as anger, aggression, laughter, depression, anxiety, etc. to a certain degree, exceeding which there may be contrasting effects on the immunity.

According to a Penn State University study conducted in early 2000, moderately aggressive men had stronger immune systems (Ref 1). The authors suggested that people’s aggressive behavior influences how their immune systems fight various bacteria, viruses, and infections. Men who have been in occasional fights or have messed with the law, either as an adult or youth, have immune systems that may mount an impactful immune response to pathogens associated with disease or injury compared to men who are seldom aggressive. But again, displaying higher levels of aggression does not convey better immunity.

For the study, a few good men (4,415) aged 30 to 48 years were interviewed, examined for their health status, and their blood samples were analyzed for different types of white blood cells or lymphocytes present. For those who’ve been sick sometimes in your life and have paid attention to your blood reports, you may know that white blood cells are major players in the body’s immune system.

The results showed, that out of a total of eight immune molecules studied, two of those named just like alphabets (B and CD4 cells) were predominantly higher in moderately aggressive men. These immune soldiers produce antibodies, some other chemical signals that switch the immune response on/off and increase your survival chances in a life or death situation such as those in the squid or hunger games.

What does history say about this?

Researchers who carried out this interesting study explain that throughout history, aggressiveness was perceived vital for obtaining food, protecting the young, battling deadly predators, and fighting other communities over territory and resources. Yet, aggressive behavior has had a higher likelihood of leading to trauma, wounds, and exposure to new diseases. Coronavirus are you listening to? 2,3

It has also been said that individuals specifically benefit if their immune system more effectively recognizes and mobilizes its components to eliminate pathogens. And this is how your previous exposure to the disease led the memory cells to act upon more efficiently, promoting a quick recovery from the disease and facilitating repair of the tissue damage wounds1.

Do the current studies and advanced science support this?

Recent studies report that increased levels of emotional stress which includes slight to intense aggressive behavior lead to immune dysregulation with distinct effects nonetheless. Activation of the immune system following such events leads to uncontrolled release of some proteins (cytokines) leading to negative effects on the immunity in comparison to non-aggressive individuals4-6. Some examples in case you want to know are here- Interleukins 1, 6 (IL-1, IL-6), Tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and C-reactive protein (CRP)4-6.

An aggressive experience and a similarly expected aggressive event are accompanied by mind state-related increases in some of those troubling proteins (cytokines). You might be aware of the types of immunity we humans possess i.e. innate (rapid and natural) and adaptive (delayed and acquired). Some studies have also shown a positive correlation between the alphabetic B, T cells and moderate aggressive behavior shown in the past. This makes us think that individuals with high aggression traits tend to have high innate immune responses, however, it needs to be studied further4.

Where does this lead us and how to find the right fit for these emotions?

Despite such wide variances in the study outcomes that we’ve seen, it is imperative to form a healthy mindset that helps us keep control of our emotions which may further lead to depression and again weak immunity. So, what’s the solution? Let’s have a look.

Studies suggest that dominant individuals have a well-balanced activation of the proteins (the cytokines) we discussed just above, which helps them fight injury or infections caused by aggressive interactions effectively and help them recover fast. On the flip side, experiences of repeated social defeat stress may cause a depression-like lifestyle and may induce dysregulation of the immune system and many more diseases. Investigating the specific role of the immune system in aggression that is relevant to human psychiatric disease seems the most probable answer4-6,7. Moreover, strengthening the immune system through mind and body movement may help as well.

To end the discussion let’s list out some effective ways to combat such emotions and strengthen the immune system through mind and body movement which won’t let you think or bother about becoming angry or aggressive, in case you just want to be healthy. Is that right?

Tips to build strong emotional immunity.

Eat healthy food.

That’s too obvious to state but it’s the first and foremost step to build strong immunity. A diet full of fruits, veggies, and staying away from oily and fast food will help you stay away from emotional disturbances and help you build strong immunity.

Exercise regularly.

Following a healthy diet along with an exercise that suits your body type has a significant impact on your attitude builds up your confidence and helps you achieve what you seek.

Much needed sleep.

Sleeping for 7-9 hours helps you get that refreshment you need in the work you love to do and helps you steer away from any negative thoughts.

Meditation and inspirational reading

Find your inner self by connecting with your positive thoughts and don’t identify yourself with that which you struggle. Find some inspirational books to stay positive and nurture relationships with like-minded ones to communicate and eradicate negative feelings.

Hobbies

Find some time for your projects and get a sense of enjoyment that serves your purpose in life and exaggerate the signs of a good mood.

Summary:

To wrap it up, let’s just say that despite some interesting findings related to the incidences of increased immunity in slightly aggressive men, the scientists are still finding the missing link between our behavioral changes and their impact on immunity (positive or negative). It remains to be seen how it unfolds further. Do check this space for more information or get back to us to know in-depth about this or have a look at the credible sources used while writing this piece below.

References:

  1. Penn State. (2000, August 30). Moderate Aggression May Lead To Stronger Immune Systems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/08/000830074454.htm
  2. 2. Bacon, A. M., & Corr, P. J. (2020). Behavioral immune system responses to coronavirus: a reinforcement sensitivity theory explanation of conformity, warmth toward others and attitudes toward lockdown. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 3203. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.566237
  3. Griffith, D. M., Sharma, G., Holliday, C. S., Enyia, O. K., Valliere, M., Semlow, A. R., … & Blumenthal, R. S. (2020). Men and COVID-19: a biopsychosocial approach to understanding sex differences in mortality and recommendations for practice and policy interventions. Preventing chronic disease, 17, E63. http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd17.200247
  4. Takahashi, A., Flanigan, M. E., McEwen, B. S., & Russo, S. J. (2018). Aggression, social stress, and the immune system in humans and animal models. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 12, 56. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00056/full
  5. Schaller, M. (2011). The behavioral immune system and the psychology of human sociality. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 366(1583), 3418-3426. https://dx.doi.org/10.1098%2Frstb.2011.0029
  6. Brod, S., Rattazzi, L., Piras, G., & D’Acquisto, F. (2014). ‘As above, so below examining the interplay between emotion and the immune system. Immunology, 143(3), 311-318. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111%2Fimm.12341
  7. Ford, B. Q., & Tamir, M. (2014). Preferring familiar emotions: As you want (and like) it?. Cognition & emotion, 28(2), 311-324. https://dx.doi.org/10.1080%2F02699931.2013.823381
  8. D’Acquisto, F. (2017). Affective immunology: where emotions and the immune response converge. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 19(1), https://dx.doi.org/10.31887%2FDCNS.2017.19.1%2Ffdacquisto