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Tattoos Can Help Strengthen Immune System, Fight Colds, Study Says

First Posted: Mar 14, 2016 07:20 AM EDT
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Many people get tattoos for various reasons. Surprisingly, a new study shows that there are benefits to inking. Multiple tattoos can reportedly make the immune system stronger, protecting from common colds.

A single tattoo can temporarily lower the body's immune response due to stress, so one becomes more susceptible to common infections like flu. However, subsequent inking can increase the body's tolerance and so will its immunity.

The new study, published in the American Journal of Human Biology, suggests that multiple tattoos have multiple health benefits.

The First Tattoo is Like a Gym Workout

Researchers from the University of Alabama recruited volunteers at tattoo parlors and sought for essential details such as number of tattoos and duration of having them. Saliva samples were also collected prior and after respondents got inked. The team looked at the level of stress hormones (cortisol) and antibodies in their immune systems.

Those who were newbies or had fewer tattoos had reduced antibodies, weaker immune fnctions and higher levels of cortisol after the tattoo session.

"They don't just hurt while you get the tattoo, but they can exhaust you," said study author Christopher Lynn, in a press release. "It's easier to get sick. You can catch a cold because your defenses are lowered from the stress of getting a tattoo."

Meanwhile, those who already have multiple tattoos only had a slight decrease in antibodies and cortisol in the immune systems before and after getting their tattoos. The researchers likened the response to that of working out in the gym, where initial efforts hurt, but the muscle soreness then goes away after subsequent workouts.

"After the stress response, your body returns to an equilibrium," Lynn explained. "However, if you continue to stress your body over and over again, instead of returning to the same set point, it adjusts its internal set points and moves higher."

Do Multiple Tattoos Boost the Immune System?

Lynn explains that repeated tattooing can increase antibodies, which eventually can help stave off the common cold. Immunoglobulin A is an important antibody found in the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems.

"Immunoglobulin A is a front line of defense against some of the common infections we encounter, like colds," Headlines and Global News quotes him as saying. "People with more tattoo experience have a statistically smaller decrease in immunoglobulin A from before to after."

The researchers explained that tattoo veterans may be more excited than anxious about getting another marking which would explain lower drops in immune function.

"Another explanation, which is not mutually exclusive, is that people with higher tattoo experience might also display reduced IgA suppression after tattooing, similar to elite athletes who habituate to moderate and high intensity exercise stress over time."

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