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Having tattoos can help you fight colds

But one could make you more susceptible.

Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

GETTING MULTIPLE TATTOOS may strengthen your immune system.

Researchers at the University of Alabama found that getting ink can strengthen immunological responses and make you more able to fight off infections like the common cold.

However, only having one tattoo can lower your immune system – at least temporarily.

Dr Christopher Lynn, associate professor of anthropology at UA said in the research, published online last week in the American Journal of Human Biology, that he noted first-hand that receiving tattoos can be physically draining.

“They don’t just hurt while you get the tattoo, but they can exhaust you,” Lynn said. “It’s easier to get sick. You can catch a cold because your defenses are lowered from the stress of getting a tattoo.”

The body’s response to tattooing is akin to that experienced from exercising in the gym when you’re out of shape, said Lynn. Initially, muscles become sore, but if you continue, the soreness fades following subsequent workouts.

“After the stress response, your body returns to an equilibrium,” Lynn said. “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.”

Approaching volunteers at tattoo businesses in nearby cities, another researcher surveyed them, obtaining information on the number of tattoos received and time involved in the tattooing procedures.

Saliva samples from the businesses’ customers were obtained both before and after their tattoo experience. The researchers then analysed the samples, measuring levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that lines portions of our gastrointestinal and respiratory systems, and cortisol, a stress hormone known to suppress immune response.

“Immunoglobulin A is a front line of defence against some of the common infections we encounter, like colds,” Lynn said.

Levels of immunoglobulin A dropped significantly in those receiving initial tattoos, as would be expected because of the immunosuppressant effects of cortisol, responding to the stress of tattooing. But the immunoglobulin A decrease was less so among those receiving tattoos more frequently, Lynn said.

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