Tag Archives: disease

Boosting Your Immune System with a Dose of Personality

Personalities and their effects on biological systems have become an increasingly popular focus of research over the last few years; the target of these studies is often related to the degree in which our personalities can regulate many aspects of our life, such as our wellbeing. A video from the Youtube series ASAPScience (see below) provides an example of the link between personality and biology. The video specifically discusses a relationship between personality and sleep habits (whether you’re a night owl or a morning person) and how the latter reveal your personality traits.

The science behind our personality is simple. It can be defined as a collection of characteristics or qualities that form an organism’s unique character. These specific traits that all combine to form a unique personality can affect different aspects of our life, such as our performance in school and the friendships we have. The question is, does personality really have an impact on our health?

Previous studies have linked personality and its role in the risk of developing health problems. More recently, research has shown that personality traits can be a factor in how well a body can fight a disease. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, a study conducted by Kavita Vadhara and colleagues at The University of Nottingham has shown that some traits part of the ‘Big Five’ group, which are five primary dimensions of personality common to all humans, can play a role in the way the defence system of the body works. This system is also known as our immune system.

The 'Big Five' Model shows the five primary dimensions of personality. Big Five Source: Wikipedia Commons

The ‘Big Five’ Model shows the five primary dimensions of personality.
Big Five Source: Wikipedia Commons

The team of researchers asked 121 students to complete a questionnaire based on their personality. This questionnaire measured their degree of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits. Specifically, they looked how extroverted the participants were (energetic, talkative), their neuroticism (how anxious or moody) and their conscientiousness (how organized or thoughtful). In addition to the questionnaire, they also took a blood sample from each participant. This allowed the analysis of a number of genes that are involved in an inflammatory immune response, which is a response initiated by our immune system that helps the body fight infection and speed up the recovery from injury. Using microarray technology to determine which genes are active, the team of researchers were able to make a correlation between personality traits and the active genes required for an immune response.

The above instrument is used in microarray technology to identify active genes. Microarray Source: Wikipedia Commons

The above instrument is used in microarray technology to identify active genes.
Microarray Source: Wikipedia Commons

Results showed that participants who scored higher for extroversion in the questionnaire had an increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes (genes capable of promoting inflammation). However, participants who demonstrated a higher degree of conscientiousness subsequently had a decreased expression of pro-inflammatory gene expression. In other words, individuals with a more social behavior appear to have a greater ability to deal with infection and injury, whereas participants who were more cautious could not effectively handle the infections. The third trait mentioned, neuroticism, did not show an association with gene expression.

Before you celebrate that your outgoing disposition means you’re better at fighting illness, I think an important question that should be asked is, what is influencing what? Could it be the opposite cause-and-effect relationship, where our immune system influences our behaviour? Whatever the cause of the above results, the study conducted by Vadhara and colleagues provides further support to the dynamic relationship between health and personality.

Check out this video by Kurz Gesaft explaining how the immune system works:


Thanks for reading!

Samantha Mee

Eating your mucous: a defence mechanism?



Mucous-ingestion:source flickr commons

Mucous-ingestion by this man, although disgusting,may actually be aiding his immune system. Image by imgarcade. Source: Google Image



As much as everyone would like to hide it, you have all picked your nose at one point or another in your life. And each time, you’ve probably been reminded of how disgusting and unhygienic the act is. Some people even take this behaviour to the next level, proceeding to ingest the hidden treasures. Could ingesting the contents of your nose actually be the opposite of what your mother has told you? Even, healthy?

Professor Napper at the University of Saskatchewan hypothesizes that eating the pathogen-containing mucous from the nose can actually produce an effect similar to that of a vaccine. The mucous and the hairs in the nose are a part of the innate immune response, which is essentially the first line of defence against invading pathogens. When you ingest the mucous, you’re ingesting all of these pathogens, some of which are potentially very dangerous if they enter into your bloodstream. Once ingested, these pathogens skip the bloodstream and make their way to the gastrointestinal tract where they teach our immune system to defend, such as a vaccine would. Professor Napper’s work is still in the beginning stages and no formal study has been conducted.

S.aureus, common pathogen in nose: source Google commons

S.aureus is a common pathogen in the nose that may be ingested and induce an immune response. Raeky. Source: Wikipedia

On the other hand, Dr Bischinger’s work, which is summarized in this article , describes the mechanism with which the immune system is boosted. He believed that  the pathogens that you introduce from the nose to the body, similar to those of vaccines, are already weakened. He suggested that there are bacteria-killing properties in the mucous of the nose that kill and weaken most of the bacteria, allowing it to be easily contained by our immune system. This mechanism  produces antibodies that our body desperately needs when the full-strength pathogens enter the body.

Moreover, parallels could be drawn from this to that of mothers who kiss their babies in the hopes of boosting their child’s immune system.  In the same way, pathogens that the baby is exposed to are weakened by the mother and then passed on to the baby, producing long-lasting immunity.

Mother kissing the baby: source Google commons

Mother kissing the baby in the hopes that she can provide the baby with weakened pathogens that can be more easily handled by the baby’s weak immune system. Image by Vera Kratochvil. Source Google Image

In conclusion, although pending actual scientific studies, I think that this just might be the natural immunity boost that we all need. However, I don’t think we are ready as a society to start picking away at our noses whenever we please!


-Gurtaj Mahil