How Living In A City Can Affect Your Immune System
People choose to live in cities for a variety of reasons. Factors such as accessibility, commute times, and personal lifestyle preferences all go into the decision of where a person puts down roots. Once factor that doesn’t typically get consideration when choosing city living, however, is immunity. Even though people know that their immune system and its defenses are vital to their overall health, the health of the immune system is simply not something people think about when making a move.
However, we’re here to tell you it should be at least partially considered – because where you live can make all the difference in how healthy you are. While some people believe living in a city can actually make your immune system stronger, others think that rural areas are much better for your health. So, who’s right? Read on to learn how living in a city can affect your immune system.
Does environment affect the immune system?
The environment has a huge impact on the overall health of the body. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, your immune health is developed and shaped by environmental factors even more than it is by your genes. This conclusion was drawn from research partially funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The study in question looked at identical twins, who share almost all genes, and fraternal twins, who share half their genes, and measured specific immune parameters to determine whether or not the immune system was different in each pair. The researchers found that the immune parameters were different, not because of inheritable influences, but because of non-heritable influences. The eventual conclusion was that as much as 75% of immune parameters depend solely on environmental factors as opposed to a person’s genetic makeup.
Image by Sigmund on Unsplash: Do people from rural areas have better immune systems?
Do people who live in cities get sick more often?
Research has been conducted to see how the big city can affect the health of people who live in metropolitan areas. When looking at urbanization and its relation to infectious disease, one research review found that urban areas tend to have better housing, sanitation, ventilation, and social services. All these factors go into the spread of infectious diseases and how the body reacts to them. The healthier a person is, the more likely they are to have a strong immune system.
That being said, pathogens tend to adapt to their surroundings in the name of survival. With more people in an area, such as a packed subway or other urban center, the more likely a pathogen is to spread to more people. While this doesn’t conclude that people in cities get sick more often, it does posit that it’s possible they are more often at risk for sickness, simply because they are in closer proximity to a great number of other people.
There is also the risk of exposure to pollution and higher levels of stress that could hinder immune health. Pollution tends to increase a person’s sensitivity to certain allergens and cause other reactions in the immune system which lead to inflammation in the body. When the exposure is constant, this chronic inflammation can lead to a weakened immune system.
Stress is also shown to be higher in people that live in cities, as are mental health disorders. Since high levels of stress are known to hinder immune function, this too could greatly affect the way the immune system fights off pathogens in people living in urbanized areas.
Do people from rural areas have better immune systems?
Research has looked into whether or not rural environments are better for the immune system, and although it isn’t cut and dry, there is a clear connection between rural living and stronger immune systems. However, the strength of the immune system in people in rural areas tends to depend on where they grew up and if they were around animals as children.
One particular study looked in healthy men between the ages of 20 and 40 who had grown up in rural areas. While they were growing up, the men were exposed to farm living as well as animals. They were compared to people who grew up in cities and had no pets. The study found that early exposure to rural living and farm animals was correlated with a more regulated immune defense and a decreased risk of allergy or asthma later on in life.
Image by Mateus Maia on Unsplash: Is it unhealthy to live in a city?
The men who grew up in rural areas were also shown to have a stronger initial immune response when exposed to a stressor. However, other research has found that any exposure to urban animals such as mice or cockroaches early in life could have the same effect even if a child grows up in the city.
The evidence from both studies suggests that the timing in which a person lives in a certain area and what they are exposed during that point in their life is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to immune health. This is because there are certain specific microbes associated with both urban and rural animals that initiate a certain immune response when people come into contact with them, which can aid in stronger defenses later on in life.
While living in the city does seem to suggest a slight disadvantage when it comes to immune health, there are many factors to consider when choosing where to live. But if you’re due for a change of scenery soon, it might be worth considering immunity in your decision!
Featured image by Chris Dickens on Unsplash
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