05 May 2015

Hugs for Health Addendum

Last Friday’s blog post, Hugs for Health, reviewed how social support, particularly hugging, reduced the risk of catching a cold and, if caught, the cold’s severity. That got me wondering. In addition to the usual preventatives--hand hygiene, sleeping well, eating well, etc.--are there other unexpected, unimagined ways to avoid a cold?

Fortunately for this addendum, I found a handful that seem reasonable and have some physiological basis, such as increasing immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA is an antibody in our respiratory and alimentary tract secretions, saliva and tears. It’s one of the body's first lines of defense, neutralizing viral antigens and stopping bacteria from adhering to mucous membranes.

Here’s my short list.


After my blog post Valentine Kisses, I should have thought of this. Exchanging bacteria with a healthy partner should boost your immune system and enhance your defense against a cold. 

A couple kissing at sunset to avoid a cold. (Multiple websites)

Have Sex

Nope, I wouldn’t have thought of this. A 2004 study from Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., related the frequency of sex to levels of salivary IgA.

The researchers placed 112 students into 1 or 4 groups based on the students’ self-reported frequency of sexual encounters: none, infrequent (<1 time/week), frequent (1-2 times/week) and very frequent (>2 times/week). Analysis of saliva samples from the students showed those in the “frequent” group had significantly higher levels of IgA than those in the other three groups, whose levels were comparable. Accordingly, to avoid a cold, have sex frequently but not very frequently.

A couple having sex to avoid a cold. (Multiple websites)

Listen to Music

Among studies that have demonstrated the health benefits of listening to music is another from Wilkes University. The researchers had 66 students listen to 30 minutes of either silence, a tone/click presentation, a Muzak tape of “environmental music,” or a radio broadcast of comparable music. Analysis of before and after saliva samples found significant increases in IgA for the Muzak tape (20 students) but not for any of the others.

Listening to music to avoid a cold. (Power of Music by Louis Gallait, oil on wood panel, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Louis_Gallait_-_Power_of_Music_-_Walters_37134.jpg)


If laughter isn’t the best medicine, it’s pretty close. Among the body’s responses to laughing are lower levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which suppress the immune system, and increased production of antibodies, including IgA.

Laughing to avoid a cold. (Multiple websites)

Sing in the Shower

I don’t sing in the shower, though I should. Singing in the shower is one way to keep your nasal passages moist and free of rhinovirus, and to bring joy to others within earshot.

Using a Bluetooth wireless speaker as you sing in the shower to avoid a cold. (Multiple websites)

Pet a Dog

In still another study from Wilkes University, the researchers randomly assigned 55 students to 1 of 3 groups for an 18 minute test. One group simply sat comfortably on a couch, a second group petted a stuffed dog, and the third group petted a live dog. Analysis of before and after saliva samples found significant IgA increases only for those petting the live dog. (Try it with cats.)

Petting a dog to avoid a cold. (Photo and dog t-shirt from www.zazzle.com/heavy_petting_allowed_dog_tee-155896857125449686)


Wilkes University study of sexual frequency in 2004 Psychological Reports journal: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15217036 (Work was presented in 1999 at convention of Eastern Psychological Association: www.scienceagogo.com/news/19990031204230data_trunc_sys.shtml)
Wilkes University study of listening to music in 1998 Perceptual and Motor Skills Journal: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10052073
Wilkes University study of petting a dog in 2004 Psychological Reports journal: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15762389
Health benefits of laughter: www.hanford.gov/health/?page=137
Example lists of cold preventatives, including singing in shower:

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