Unusual Health: Want to Stay Healthy? Look at a Sick Person

| 4/19/2010 3:37:11 PM

Whenever I see someone sick, my body tenses up and I try to breathe less. I doubt these actions are actually protecting me, but as I’m consciously trying to guard my body against illness, my survival instincts—and my body’s immune system—are kicking into gear. Mother Nature has many natural remedies to protect us from infections and disease, but it looks like the best one might be our bodies’ instincts—and the simple act of looking at a sick person.

Sick person
Want to avoid getting sick? A new study shows that just looking at a sick person can trigger your body to step up its immune defenses. Photo By Laura Taylor/Courtesy Flickr

psychology study at the University of British Columbia found that looking at sick people triggers our immune systems to release an infection-fighting substance called interleukin-6, or IL-6, which is produced by white blood cells. The more IL-6, the stronger our bodies work to fight off infection.

For the study, researchers showed a group of participants a slideshow of people coughing, sneezing and suffering from chicken pox. After viewing the images, the researchers took blood samples, exposed the blood to a bacterial infection and measured the amount of IL-6 in the blood. Participants who viewed images of sick people increased their production of the infection-fighting substance by 23 percent.

The researchers speculated that when we see people suffering from illness, our bodies perceive that we’re in danger of infection and step up their immune responses in return.

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