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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


A New Wimp Factor?

Immune systems weaker in Clark Kent types

By Randy Dotinga
HealthSCOUT Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthSCOUT) -- As if nice guys don't have enough problems.

They already finish last, as the saying goes, and now researchers say their immune systems leave something to be desired, too.

Men with medium or high levels of aggression are better equipped to fight off germs than their mild-mannered counterparts, says a new study.

"Men with very low levels of aggression did not have particularly robust immune systems," says study co-author Alan Booth, a professor of sociology and human development at Pennsylvania State University. Results appear in the August issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, the journal of the American Psychosomatic Society.

Booth and his colleagues looked at information collected on 4,415 Vietnam veterans, aged 30 to 48, who were surveyed in the early 1980s. The participants were asked 12 questions about criminal activity, trouble in school, arrest records and violent behavior. Blood samples also were taken from the men, and researchers measured the levels of eight different types of white cells, which help the body fight disease.


Two specialized types of white-blood cells, known as CD4 and B cells, seem to be linked to aggression, the researchers say.

The CD4 cells communicate with other cells about invading germs, while the B cells store information about every disease a person has ever had, Booth says.

Moderately aggressive men -- defined by the researchers as those who say they engaged in two of the 12 aggressive behaviors in the questionnaire -- were 30 percent more likely to have high levels of those cells than the men who reported no aggressive acts, the study says.

The numbers didn't hold up as well for the more aggressive participants. Men reporting five aggressive acts were just 7 percent more likely to have strong immune systems than those reporting three.

The connection between aggression and immune systems may have something to do with battles for survival in prehistoric times, Booth says. Aggressive men, such as warriors or hunters, would face more germs on the road or in new environments, he says.

"It makes sense that the people taking risks would have better immune systems," Booth says.


"It's just interesting. Some of this was just driven by curiosity," he says.

Dr. Gailen D. Marshall, director of the division of allergy and clinical immunology at the medical school of the University of Texas-Houston, says the study lays the groundwork for future research that should investigate exactly what happens to the immune system in aggressive people.

A boosted immune system is not always a good thing, Marshall says.

"You can get a hypersensitivity to diseases in which the body overreacts to itself or a pollen or food," and that can create conditions like asthma, Marshall says.

He says the study appears to support research that says good mental health, including the venting of internal stress, boosts the immune system.

However, he says many types of aggression should remain unacceptable.

"I hope this doesn't suggest that if you go out and have a good bar fight, your immune system will be better," he says.

What To Do

Remember the next time you hold in your anger that keeping your feelings bottled up is known to be bad for your health.