(CBS News) Parents may feel like they're always getting sick from a bug their child picked up at school, but a new study has found the opposite. Research from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh finds that being a parent may actually boosts a person's protection against the common cold.
In the study, Carnegie Mellon researchers examined 785 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 55 and exposed them through nose drops to a virus that causes the common cold. The subjects were part of previous studies to see how social factors might influence whether a person is more likely to catch a cold. Subjects were also asked whether or not they were parents and how many kids they had.
The researchers found that when exposed to the virus, parents were 52 percent less likely to develop the common cold compared with non-parents. Specifically, having one or two children was tied to a 48 percent reduced risk of getting sick while having three or more children made parents 61 percent less likely to catch a cold.
The effect was only seen in parents older than 24, and did not influence illness rates in 18 to 24-year-old subjects. The study is published in the July 3 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.
The researchers told Science Daily that this cold protection wasn't a factor of pre-existing immunity, as ruled out by an examination of the subjects' levels of disease-fighting antibodies.What's behind the effect?
"Although parenthood was clearly protective, we were unable to identify an explanation for this association," study author Dr. Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychiatry at Carnegie Mellon University, said in a press release. "We expect that a psychological benefit of parenthood that we did not measure may have been responsible."
Medical News Today reports that being a parent may boost the body's regulation of cytokines, immune factors that are triggered in response to an infection. Previous studies have shown a lack of stress or positive outlook in cold-fighting might trigger cytokine responses.
"Our results, while provocative, have left room for future studies to pursue how various aspects of parenthood...might be related to physical health, and how parenthood could 'get under the skin' to influence physical health," Cohen told Science Daily.