Friends in a park

Feed Friendships, Starve Colds

The common wisdom to avoid a cold is to 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 colds.

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 more 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