Researchers theorize that parenthood may
produce feelings of purpose in life and positive
emotional experiences that help boost their
immune systems and ward off colds.
physical symptoms of a cold aren’t caused directly by the virus,
but instead by the immune system’s response to the foreign
invaders, which includes the release of cytokines, Cohen says.
These protein molecules help fight the cold virus, but they also
cause runny noses and congestion.
When people are chronically stressed, they produce too
much cortisol, a hormone that usually helps regulate the level of
cytokines. The heightened hormone levels cause immune cells to
gradually become insensitive to cortisol, triggering the release of
more cytokines that exacerbate the cold symptoms, Cohen says.
Of course, the impact that stress has on the common cold
is just one facet of the research psychologists are doing in the
field of psychoneuroimmunology — exploring the relationship
between the mind and the immune system. In today’s era
of more integrated care, psychologists now have broader
opportunities to do interdisciplinary work in that field.
Brendan L. Smith is a writer in Washington, D.C.
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