Valentine's Day is over, but that doesn't mean you have to give up on love. There are numerous benefits to showing affection, and according to a new study, those include warding off colds.
The new research, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, found that falling in love is associated with an increased activity of certain genes, particularly ones involved in antiviral defences. In other words, love could help us fight off viruses like colds and the flu.
The small study involved just 47 women who were given weekly questionnaires and had their blood taken over 24 months, depending on their relationship timeline. To be eligible for the study, women had to be in a new relationship, which was defined as seeing someone for less than a month.
While women who fell in love over the course of the study had increased activity of the immunity genes, this wasn't observed in women who did not fall in love.
"This could reflect a kind of a proactive response to anticipating future intimate contact, given that most viruses are spread via close physical contact," said Damian Murray, lead author of the study and assistant professor at Tulane's School of Science and Engineering.
"However, this increased activity of antiviral genes is also consistent with the biological preparation of the body for pregnancy. From this women-only sample, both of these interpretations remain possible."
Loneliness can have a negative impact on both mental and physical health. For instance, it can lead to more inflammation, an increased risk of heart disease, and depression.
"Chronic inflammation is bad for health, and loneliness is one of the biggest predictors of mortality," Murray said.
"Martie [Haselton, coauthor of the study] and I wondered if there could be a flipside to this 'lonely' epigenetics profile and we arrived at love ... We wanted to investigate whether new romantic love in new romantic relationships was associated with favorable health and a favorable immune-related epigenetic profile."
Murray concluded that love probably isn't the antithesis of loneliness, as there were no significant changes in self-reported loneliness or depressive symptoms when women fell in love compared to when they started the study.
He said the aim for future research is to look at the long term health implications of love - studying not just those in the honeymoon period, but couples who have been happy together for a long time. The team also want to look into the effects on both men and women, to be able to "map the physiological changes that accompany the initiation and progression of human romantic relationships."
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