Human immune systems vary based on multiple characteristics including genetics, gender, obesity, and age, with the latter having the most staggering effect. However, a new study highlights the entry of another factor into the picture: raising a child.
“The sleep deprivation, stress, chronic infections, and all the other challenges of parenting does more to our body than just gives us grey hairs.”
Dr. Adrian Liston, from the VIB and KU Leuven in Belgium and co-led the study with researchers from the Babraham Institute in the United Kingdom, also said that parenting is a “severe environmental challenge” that “radically rewires the immune system.” This rewiring makes parents more susceptible to infection during the early stages of changing diapers and baby burping, but the immune system bounces back after ample rest and recovery. The study was published in the journal Nature Immunology.
In their study of 670 people aging between 2 and 86 years old, the researchers looked at all potential factors impacting how the immune system is weakened. They found that two unrelated people who live together and had a child together showed a “50 percent reduction in the variation between their two immune systems.”
By following the study participants for three years, the researchers were able to observe patterns in “immune landscape” fluctuation. Expected immune stress occurred after a flu vaccine or during bouts of gastroenteritis, commonly referred to as the “stomach flu.” However, in the couples who lived together and shared a child, the immune impact from this experience was larger than flu vaccines or cases of gastroenteritis.
Scientists continue to learn more about how genetic and environmental factors affect the action of the immune system. In this case, prospective parents can expect to be vulnerable to infection while raising a baby after many sleepless nights, but at least they can rest assured knowing their partner will be experiencing the exact same thing.
Source: Babraham Institute