More than just giving you grey hair, the challenges associated with parenting — such as sleep deprivation, stress and chronic infections — can radically rewire your immune system, new research has found.
What is more, the researchers found that raising a child together has a greater effect on your immune system than the seasonal ‘flu vaccine or travellers’ gastroenteritis.
“This is the first time anyone has looked at the immune profiles of two unrelated individuals in a close relationship,” said co-lead researcher Adrian Liston from University of Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium.
“Since parenting is one of the most severe environmental challenges anyone willingly puts themselves through, it makes sense that it radically rewires the immune system – still, it was a surprise that having kids was a much more potent immune challenge than severe gastroenteritis,” Liston noted.
The research took a detailed look at the immune systems of 670 people, ranging from two-86 years of age, to understand more about what drives variation in our immune systems between individuals.
From an assessment of the effects of a range of factors, including age, gender and obesity, one of the most potent factors that altered an individual’s immune system was whether they co-parented a child.
Individuals who lived together and shared a child showed a 50 percent reduction in the variation between their two immune systems, compared with the diversity seen in the wider population, the study showed.
The findings appeared in the journal Nature Immunology.