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Study: More friends may mean fewer colds

Cold cure October 2, 1997
Web posted at: 6:51 p.m. EDT (2251 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Al Hinman

ATLANTA (CNN) -- It may not be the cure for the common cold, but it could be an easy way to keep from getting one. A recent study shows the more friends you have, the less likely you are to catch a cold.

That might seem to contradict conventional wisdom, which would indicate that loners, who keep to themselves, should be less likely to catch a cold because they are more isolated from germs.

But researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found that the opposite is true.

"People who have more diverse networks -- that were married, belong to social groups, had friends and close family members -- were less likely to develop a cold than those who were relatively isolated," said Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon.

In fact, those with few social ties are four times more likely to get colds, according to the study, which has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We know social diversity is associated with a more positive effect -- higher levels of self-esteem and feelings of control -- and we though these kinds of psychological states might trigger either behavioral changes in people or biological changes in people that made them less susceptible to colds," Cohen said.

Other studies have shown that socially-involved people tend to take better care of themselves. They smoke and drink less, eat healthier diets and get more exercise.

But the researchers discovered that those healthy habits alone are not enough to explain fewer colds among those with a lot of friends.

"Even though we didn't find evidence in this study that the immune system was responsible, we're really quite confident that it is the immune system that is the major pathway here," Cohen said.

Cohen is the same researcher who discovered several years ago that stress can trigger a cold. He continues to do research on the connection between our minds and our bodies' immune systems.

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