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Reuters, April 26 2001

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – People who see the proverbial glass as half empty may be nearly four times more likely than their optimistic peers to come down with a cold, study findings suggest.

According to the report, psychological stress, particularly the chronic type that may accompany a neurotic and negative personality, is a risk factor for colds. An optimistic outlook and outgoing personality seemed to protect individuals, the investigators found.

“Our findings indicate that high levels of psychological stress are moderately associated with common colds,” Dr. Bahi Takkouche and colleagues from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, report in the May issue of Epidemiology.

While the common cold is rarely serious, it can be blamed for about 30 million days of lost work in the US each year, the study authors explain.

To investigate whether stress increased the likelihood of developing a cold, the researchers surveyed more than 1,100 Spanish university staff and students at regular intervals over a 1-year period. The study homed in on different types of stress including stress life events, perceived stress, and having a generally negative outlook and neurotic personality compared with a positive and extroverted one.

Individuals with a negative outlook were at greatest risk of developing colds regardless of their use of vitamin C and zinc, and their smoking and drinking habits. Those at next highest risk were individuals who believed that they were under stress. These people were nearly three times as likely to develop a cold, the report indicates.

Psychological stress can take a toll on the immune system by reducing the concentration of cytokines, proteins that help to ward off infections. Individuals who are under stress are also more prone to behaviors that can make them vulnerable to disease, such as smoking, consuming alcohol and eating an unhealthy diet. It can also raise the perception of illness, Takkouche and colleagues note.