Why Some People Are More Likely to Catch a Cold

The answer may be in your DNA structures

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Ever heard of telomeres? They may stand between you and your next bout with the sniffles.

Telomeres are protective sections of DNA that cap off the ends of chromosomes. They serve as a molecular clock for a cell’s lifespan; they shorten each time cells divide, gradually lowering the cell’s ability to function at its vibrant best. Researchers have linked shortened telomeres to aging and age-related diseases, with some suggesting that people who inherited longer telomeres live better and age better, noted CBSNews.

In the latest study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers say that telomeres may be connected to the body’s ability to fend off the common cold. The work suggests that the length of telomeres can predict risks for people as young as 22; and the association only gets stronger with age.

(More: New SARS-Like Virus Detected: Should We be Worried?)

To gauge exactly how those protective caps work, lead researcher Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University and his team measured the telomere length of white blood cells from 152 healthy volunteers aged 18-55. They were later exposed to the rhinovirus, responsible for the common cold,  and quarantined in single rooms for five days to see if infections would develop.

Among 105 infected with the virus, 33 people developed colds. And individuals with shorter telomeres were more likely to get  respiratory infections, although this was only true among those aged 21 or older. Overall, people with shorter telomeres in a specific type of blood cell – a CD8CD28 T-cell that is critical for eliminating infections — were more likely to succumb to infections.

(More: Trying to Avoid a Cold? Skip the Vitamin D Supplements)

Cohen said this was the first time scientists connected the length of telomeres to the health of young and middle-aged people. But the work doesn’t mean that those with shorter telomeres are doomed to sniffle and sneeze through every cold season. “This is preliminary research and further work with other viruses and with natural infections will help clarify its implications,” he said in a statement.

4 comments
KaleoK
KaleoK

Nonsense! Become a vegetarian. Never have a cold again. Or cough or headache.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@KaleoK Hardly.  

Becoming a vegetarian (or, better yet, a vegan) can help to ward off chronic health problems, including cardiovascular ones, but it doesn't do much, if anything, for short-term illnesses such as colds, flu, sinus infections, etc.  

And no more headaches?  That would only happen if an animal product that you had been consuming was the cause (as in a food intolerance) of those headaches.  Most headaches, in fact, have nothing whatsoever to do with what you consume.  They usually, however, have much to do with posture, with mechanical problems in the neck/back, with muscle tension, or even with the ambient temperature.

I've been a vegetarian since 1996, and a vegan since 2001.  I've had plenty of colds, of coughs and even of sinus infections.  And neither has done a thing to help with my chronic headache.

Just because you haven't yet had a cold, cough or headache since becoming a vegetarian does NOT mean that this applies universally.  Because of that, you're handing out poor advice.

hanrod1
hanrod1

@KaleoK : or, probably, an erection.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@hanrod1 @KaleoK  Erections are, among other things, a sign of a man's overall health.  By improving their cardiovascular health, male vegetarians/vegans actually have a much better chance of being able to attain and maintain an erection for years longer than an omnivore.  Oh, and if you like your lady to swallow, it also helps to be a vegan.  You are what you eat - what you eat affects the way you taste and by dropping animal products, you no longer taste bitter.