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Stay happy to stay healthy

Posted Oct 23 2008 6:33pm
The URL of this blog is http://foodasmedicine.blogspot.com. This post doesn't even involve food, but the mind. If you want to be healthy, be happy. That is the conclusion of an experiment by Dr. Sheldon Cohen and colleagues of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh involving exposing healthy volunteers to a cold or flu virus. They found that people with generally sunny disposition were less likely to fall ill. Their findings are published in the journal "Psychosomatic Medicine".

They had found in a previous study that people with a happy disposition seemed less susceptible to getting a cold, but doubts remain as to whether it was the emotional trait that caused the effect. In the new study, they subjected 195 healthy adults to standard measures of personality traits, self-perceived health and emotional 'style'.

Those judged as having a positive emotional style were given nasal drops that either contin a cold virus or a virus that causes cold like symtoms. Researchers collect objective data like mucus production. Subjects also reported whether they experience any aches, pains, sneesing or congestion. They found that based on objective measures, happy people were less likely to develop a cold. If they do, their self-rated symptoms were less severe than based on objective measures.
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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Staying positive through the cold season could be your best defense against getting sick, new study findings suggest.
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In an experiment that exposed healthy volunteers to a cold or flu virus, researchers found that people with a generally sunny disposition were less likely to fall ill.

The findings, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, build on evidence that a "positive emotional style" can help ward off the common cold and other illnesses.

Researchers believe the reasons may be both objective -- as in happiness boosting immune function -- and subjective -- as in happy people being less troubled by a scratchy throat or runny nose.

"People with a positive emotional style may have different immune responses to the virus," explained lead study author Dr. Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "And when they do get a cold, they may interpret their illness as being less severe." [

Cohen and his colleagues had found in a previous study that happier people seemed less susceptible to catching a cold, but some questions remained as to whether the emotional trait itself had the effect.

For the new study, the researchers had 193 healthy adults complete standard measures of personality traits, self-perceived health and emotional "style." Those who tended to be happy, energetic and easy-going were judged as having a positive emotional style, while those who were often unhappy, tense and hostile had a negative style.

Afterward, the researchers gave them nasal drops containing either a cold virus or a particular flu virus that causes cold-like symptoms. Over the next six days, the volunteers reported on any aches, pains, sneezing or congestion they had, while the researchers collected objective data, like daily mucus production.

Cohen and his colleagues found that based on objective measures of nasal woes, happy people were less likely to develop a cold.

What's more, when happy folks did develop a cold, their self-rated symptoms were less severe than would be expected based on objective measures.

When the researchers weighed other factors that could explain the relationship -- like volunteers' perception of their general health, their self-esteem and tendency to be optimistic -- happiness itself still seemed to protect against cold symptoms.

In contrast, people with negative dispositions were not at increased risk of developing a cold based on objective measures -- though they did tend to get down about their symptoms.

"We find that it's really positive emotions that have the big effect," Cohen said, "not negative ones."

So can a grumpy person fight the common cold by deciding to be happy? Conventional wisdom holds that personality traits, unlike fleeting emotions, are "very stable and difficult to change," Cohen said.

However, he noted, some recent research suggests that emotional traits are more amenable to change than traditionally believed.

SOURCE: Psychosomatic Medicine 2006.
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