Feed Friendships, Starve Colds

The common wisdom is to avoid a cold, avoid contact with other people.
While it may make sense to limit your exposure to the viruses which
trigger the sniffling, sneezing and coughing of the common cold, a
recent study shows that, in fact, being around people – lots of
different people – may be a key factor in being less susceptible to

The study, which included intentionally dosing volunteers with a
virus, found that the more diverse your set of social relationships –
friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, fellow members of religious
and community organizations – the less likely you are to catch a cold.
People having contact at least once every two weeks with six or more
types of relationships fought off colds best and had less than
one-fourth the risk of becoming sick when compared with those who had
only one to three types of relationships.

The total number of people contacted didn’t matter, the diversity of
the contacts did. For example, someone talking only to co-workers-even
if that amounts to dozen of people in the course of two weeks-is less
protected than a person who relates to just six people from different
social networks: for example, spouse, parent, child, boss, neighbor
and fellow church member.

So friends can be good medicine. Apparently, we need them not only to bring us chicken soup when we’re sick, but to prevent getting colds in the first place. Other studies suggest that those with more diversified social networks live longer than their counterparts with fewer types of social relationships.

The impact of such social relationships on mortality may be comparable to that of smoking.

Additional note: The study also found increased susceptibility to colds among those who smoked, exercised 2 or fewer times per week, slept poorly, drank one or less alcoholic drinks per day, or had low intake of dietary vitamin C.

For More Information:

Cohen S et al: Social ties and susceptibility to the common cold. JAMA 1997;277(24):1940-44.

Excerpted with permission from the Quarterly Newsletter, Mind/Body Health Newsletter. For subscription information call 1-(800)-222-4745 or visit the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge website.

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Written by David S. Sobel MD

Explore Wellness in 2021