A new study lays out a plausible explanation for why those under chronic stress are likely to get more frequent colds: The body’s reaction to the stress hormone cortisol becomes impaired when stress is prolonged, making cortisol unable to turn down the immune reaction that causes cold symptoms.
In the study published last Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers asked 276 volunteers detailed questions to determine if they were under chronic stress due to, say, unemployment or marriage troubles. They found those who scored high on the stress scale were more likely to have severe cold symptoms after being infected with a virus compared to those who scored low.
“It’s an issue of regulation,” said study author Dr. Sheldon Cohen (pictured), a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “You’d like to have some inflammatory response to fight off the cold virus but not so much of it that you have severe symptoms.”
Some research suggests that certain lifestyle changes can help lower your body’s level of inflammation: eating a Mediterranean-style diet — rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, and fish; getting adequate amounts of sleep, about seven to eight hours every night; and practicing 15 minutes of daily meditation.