During challenging times, we often rely on our friends and family to help us through. The loving support of a friend, family member is one of life’s greatest gifts.  One of the benefits and joys of the holiday season  is spending more time with family and friends. Many years ago, the Beatles sang a song, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Researchers are proving the truth of those words. 


Over the last twenty years the theory that many relationships-friends, family, work and community have a positive impact on health has gained credibility.  Certain large studies of populations found that people   who participate in a wide variety of social networks, for example, are married, interact with family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and belong to social and religious groups, actually live longer than those with fewer types of social relationships. 


Researchers at Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania evaluated 276 healthy people, 18-55 years that volunteered and participated in a very interesting study to determine if relationship had any impact on one’s susceptibility to catching the common cold.The people with more types of social ties were less likely to catch a common cold, produced less mucous and their nasal passages were more effective in clearing the virus.  These relationships were not changed by other measurements, such as age, the type of virus, weight, education, ethnicity, sex and season of the year.  The susceptibility to colds decreases with increased diversity of social networks.


The study’s results indicated people who participate in more types of social relationships have less susceptibility to induced colds.  The risk for catching a cold increases most among people with the smallest number of relationships. While smoking, poor sleep quality, alcohol abstinence, low dietary intake of vitamin C, elevated stress hormones, and being introverted were all associated with greater susceptibility to colds, they could only partially account for the relation between the rate of colds and the greater types of relationships.While the precise way the relationships help to prevent the cold, it is suggested that one of the ways may be relationships support the immune system, through by helping the individual to respond to stressful situations in a healthy way, that prevents the chronic release of stress hormones, that over time can weaken the immune system, and increase one’s susceptibility to infection.


Source:  JAMA 1997 277:1940-1944