Feb 21, 2019 | Updated: 08:27 AM EST

Children of Separated Parents More Susceptible to Colds as Adults

Jun 28, 2017 02:25 PM EDT


This year, one million children in the US will be subject to a powerful experience: the separation of their parents. In addition to emotional and psychological problems, many of these children will have greater health problems than children from intact families. 

A new study from The Common Cold Project discovered that this susceptibility often follows these children into adulthood. Adults whose parents separated when they were young and did not talk to each other are three times more likely to get a cold than those from stable families or from separated parents who did communicate.

The methodology of the study is intriguing. Researchers from CCP compiled complete family histories and conducted detailed medical examinations on 201 volunteer subjects, isolating each patient in a hotel room for six days. On day one, each subject was given nasal drops containing the cold virus RV39.

Experts took data over the six days of isolation, examining such factors as nasal secretion levels, proinflammatory cytokine production, total mucus weight, and the nasal clearing abilities. Additionally, after the test period each person was screened for antibodies to RV39.

The data was meticulous and thorough but came down to asking one question: Did the subject get a cold?

Family history, medical and social histories, and cold development were all considered, and the results were clear. If your parents separated when you were young and didn't talk to one another, you are three times more likely to get a cold than adults with different backgrounds.

Surprisingly, children from two-parent stable families as well as children who parents separated but were on speaking terms did not have increased chances of getting a cold. Somehow even if parents didn't live together, but talked, and the child was aware they were communicating, the chances for increased susceptibility for colds as an adult did not increase.

The group then proceed to consider why this happens. Without doubt the stress associated with parents so estranged as to not talk diminishes emotional and psychological health. But the group suggest that there are cellular mechanisms at play.

Long and continuous stress, which a child feels, makes immune cells insensitive to glucocorticoids, which in turn reduced the production of proinflammatory cytokines--a major defense against cold viruses. Since this study measured cytokines, a physiological basis for cold susceptibility may be evident.

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