In Sickness and in Health: How Love Boosts Immunity

We’ve talked about how falling in love can make you more creative, but the benefits of being in a relationship definitely don’t stop there. As it gets colder during the winter months, everyone is at increased risk for catching a nasty bug—like the cold, flu, or even COVID.

While these illnesses aren’t usually serious for people who aren’t extremely young or old, they’re still highly uncomfortable and often interfere with school, work, and social activities.

The good news is that having a supportive partner is linked to better immune functioning than those tragically without. Its benefits can manifest itself both before and during an acute illness– it makes you less likely to catch a cold, and if that fails, it helps you recover faster. 

There’s no question that being in love reduces stress by lowering cortisol levels, and helps with pain by releasing natural opioids. These mechanisms definitely make a cold more tolerable, which is nice. But love doesn’t just make you more comfortable—it can also affect genes specifically involved in immune functioning:

A 2-year longitudinal study following 47 young women found that romantic love activated genes that were linked to stronger immune responses, showing a “selective up-regulation of innate immune responses to viral infections.” They also controlled for other known predictors such as sexual contact and perceived social support—ultimately finding that the power of romantic love was bigger than both.

While the results of this specific study can’t be generalized to men (yet…), the benefits of love on general well-being can’t be ignored. Being in a happy relationship improves mental well-being, which almost always translates to better physical health.

The next time your partner falls victim to a virus, take solace in the fact that you’re helping them recover just by being there. Grab some soup and show them your love! Their immune system will thank you for it.