Do Tattoos Make Your Immune System Stronger?
Oct 17 2019
According to new research from the University of Alabama (UA), receiving multiple tattoos can actively strengthen immunological responses and increase the body's ability to fight off generic infections such as the common cold.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Human Biology and explain how UA Associate Professor of Anthropology Dr. Christopher Lynn and his colleagues explored the hypothesis that repetitive tattooing translates to a more robust immune system.
Regular tattooing translates to steady immunoglobulin A levels
Working with volunteers at local tattoo businesses, Lynn and the team recorded information on the number of tattoos received and time elapsed during the tattooing procedure. Saliva was taken from participants before and after the tattooing process, with the team using the samples to measure levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A, which lines sections of the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems and plays a pivotal role in fighting off viruses and infections. The team also measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to compromise immunological response.
"Immunoglobulin A is a front line of defense against some of the common infections we encounter, like colds," says Lynn.
Results indicated that levels of immunoglobulin A dropped significantly after receiving a tattoo, an effect caused by the spike in cortisol triggered by physiological stress. Participants who received tattoos more frequently experienced a less drastic drop in immunoglobulin A, which supports the hypothesis that regular tattooing can strengthen the immune system.
"People with more tattoo experience have a statistically smaller decrease in immunoglobulin A from before to after," explains Lynn.
Regular stress builds a stronger immune system
Lynn compares the effect to strenuous exercise, which can cause initial discomfort and soreness in the muscles. However, if workouts continue the body adapts, the soreness fades and overall strength is increased. Like exercise, repeated tattooing increases the threshold required to trigger an immunological response and as a result, heightens the body's ability to fight off infections.
"After the stress response, your body returns to an equilibrium," says Lynn. "However, if you continue to stress your body over and over again, instead of returning to the same set point, it adjusts its internal set points and moves higher."
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