Skepticism

Falling in Love Makes You Healthier

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Transcript:

This week, one of my patrons requested some good news. It’s true, basically all of my videos recently have been super depressing. The reason is simple: we live in the worst timeline. There is no good news.

Just kidding, there are some happy stories out there, but they’re not very interesting. To me, I mean. Because I’m a horrible person who feeds on sadness and hopelessness.

Okay, that’s a joke, too. I like happy things! Really! It’s just that most happy things don’t really require my hot take. I want to produce videos for you guys that offer an alternative look at science news or political news that you won’t necessarily find in other places, but today I’m going to set that aside and just talk about a fun little bit of science that is very sweet and as a bonus it’s about love, and what with today being half-price candy day, well, what could be more appropriate?

A new study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that falling in love is good for your immune system. Awww.

There have previously been studies showing that being in a committed relationship is good for your health, mostly because it’s just nice having another person who is constantly watching your back — it’s especially good for men, who when single are much worse than women at things like going to the doctor for an annual physical, or having that weird lump checked out. Spending a lot of time with someone who cares about you means catching problems before they become deadly, and also nursing you back to health when you’re sick. It’s just good for you.

But this new study looks at things from a slightly different perspective: does the mere act of falling in love have health benefits, independent of the benefit of having a partner looking out for you? Researchers at UCLA and Tulane collaborated on this neat study that spanned three years and involved about 50 women. They spent ages finding the perfect women to study: they had to have just entered a new relationship but not fallen in love yet. Half the women who contacted them had already fallen in love within a month of their new relationship. Big mood. I may be bisexual but I fall in love like that joke lesbians tell — I show up to the second date with a U-Haul.

Once they had their women, they drew their blood and then had them keep coming back for surveys every two weeks asking about various things, including whether or not they were in love yet. Once they reported that they were in love, they had their blood drawn again.

The researchers found that when women fell in love, genes associated with their immune system showed increased activity, making the women more defensive against viruses.

That’s a really cool finding! The research doesn’t tell us a few things, like why this happens — the researchers guess that it may be a way for the women’s bodies to prepare for close intimate contact (which is how viruses spread), or it could be their bodies getting ready for pregnancy. Or, hey, it could just be a coincidence. It’s only 47 women, after all. The next step is to see if this happens to men, too, and if it happens in long-term relationships as well.

The researchers said they were inspired to do this study after hearing of other research that found that loneliness was a big predictor for mortality, so they wanted to see if “the opposite of loneliness” would boost health, and they figured the opposite of loneliness was new romantic love. Interestingly enough, they found that the women’s self-reported loneliness didn’t actually change when they fell in love, so the original thing they were looking at didn’t actually have an impact on health.

So there you have it: a cool little study with a happy result. Go out and fall in love! Do it for your immune system. And while you’re waiting for that to happen, go to the drug store and get that half-price candy. We’ve got a few months until Easter half-price candy day.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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One Comment

  1. There is lots of research on this, on the role of oxytocin on health. I have been following it because it relates to my nitric oxide stuff.
    It isn’t just ‘falling in love’ that improves health, doing anything positive for people makes you more healthy. Doing negative things to people make you unhealthy and will cause PTSD.

    ICE is going to have a whole lot of PTSD in agents from what they are doing to those refugee children.

    In rats, giving them stuff to make nests out of accelerates wound healing.

    https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0005523

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