The Surprising Reason You May Not Have Antibodies After Vaccination, Experts Say
You'd never guess this could impact your COVID vaccine.
The COVID crisis has put health awareness front and center this year, with heightened attention to the many factors that can make or break immune health. And while most focus on the physical traits that may help or hinder one's ability to fight off a viral threat—age, body weight, and the presence of underlying conditions, to name a few—new studies suggest that psychosocial factors may also play a significant role. In fact, there's one surprising reason you may produce fewer antibodies after vaccination, leading to a less robust immune response to a COVID infection—and, shockingly, it all comes down to your social life. Read on to find out if your personal life is working against your health.
It's no secret that a thriving and satisfied romantic life can contribute to a better quality of life overall, but it may come as a shock to learn that the benefits extend far beyond happiness to directly affect one's health. The Washington Post recently reported that "people in happy, romantic relationships" tend to enjoy certain health benefits, including "better protection from flu vaccines" due to "higher antibody levels after the shot."
While there have been no formal studies on the subject as it relates to COVID-19, experts speculate that those in happy relationships may gain those same benefits when it comes to the COVID vaccine. "We know that vaccines produce better responses in people who are socially connected," Steve Cole, PhD, a neuroscientist at UCLA's School of Medicine, told the newspaper via email. "So relationships and community are more important than ever now as we try to vaccinate our way past the COVID pandemic," he said.
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Of course, these benefits aren't conferred by simple virtue of relationship status. Experts explain that there are two common reasons that people in happy relationships tend to exhibit better overall health. First, healthier individuals are more likely to get married than their less-healthy counterparts. Second, once married, spouses tend to encourage one another to engage in healthier habits such as a good diet and exercise.
Over time, these factors lead to comparatively greater health, making happily married individuals more likely to produce a robust immune response to vaccines.
Just how effective are romantic relationship in promoting overall health? A 2017 study published in the journal American Psychologist found that happy marriages are linked with a 49 percent lower mortality rate, and Harvard Health Publishing reports that "the longer a man stays married, the greater his survival advantage over his unmarried peers."
Another study, which observed the effects of happily committed relationships on the life expectancy of prostate cancer patients found that over the 17-year course of the study, "married men survived far longer (median 69 months) than separated and widowed patients (38 months)."
Though a healthy relationship can lead to a healthier life, relationships that cause stress may undermine any such benefits.
In fact, recent research has found that while high levels of marital satisfaction are associated with better immune responses, stress—whether relationship-oriented or not—can dull one's immune response to the COVID vaccination. "Vaccine efficacy depends not only on the vaccine but also on characteristics of the vaccinated," according to a 2021 paper published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. The researchers conclude that "stress, depression, loneliness," and other psychological factors—each of which can take place within or outside of a relationship—can likely impair immune response to the COVID vaccine.
So, as you strive for better health amid the pandemic, be sure to look at the fuller picture. Just as a healthy diet and exercise might help you mitigate COVID risk, so too will your relationships and mental health.