Brain and Body

Scientists Find That Getting Multiple Tattoos Strengthens Your Immune System

March 14, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

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For anyone who says that getting a tattoo is a bad decision…

If you need a little push to get that tattoo you’ve been thinking about, there’s new scientific evidence that may affect your decision. Researchers from the University of Alabama found that getting multiple tattoos could actually give your immune system a boost and make you better able to fight off infections.

However, if you’re a first-timer, don’t expect to see much of an improvement. The researchers say that an individual has to get more than one tattoo to reap the immune system benefits.

The researchers compare the body’s response to a tattoo to the experience of exercising at the gym when you’re out of shape. First, the muscles get sore, but if you keep stick with it, the soreness eventually fades away once you’ve conditioned your body to the workout.

SEE ALSO: The Science Behind Laser Tattoo Removal

With tattooing, the process can leave your body feeling tired and out-of-the-norm afterwards because your body is reacting to the foreign contaminants injected deep into the skin.

To investigate whether this effect was seen in people who get tattoos, the researchers ventured out to a local tattoo shop and rounded up some volunteers for the study. They examined how many tattoos the participants had as well as how long each tattooing session was.

They also analyzed study volunteers’ blood samples to measure levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and immunoglobulin A, which is an antibody.

"Immunoglobulin A is a front line of defense against some of the common infections we encounter, like colds," researcher and anthropology professor Dr. Christopher Lynn said in a press release.

The researchers found that those who were getting their very first tattoo experienced a large drop in immunoglobulin A levels due to rising cortisol levels. However, for those who had been tattooed multiple times before, the immunoglobulin A levels only decreased a bit, which suggests that the body strengthens its immune response, the researchers say.

"After the stress response, your body returns to an equilibrium," Lynn said. "However, if you continue to stress your body over and over again, instead of returning to the same set point, it adjusts its internal set points and moves higher."

But before you go running off to the tattoo parlor to try and boost your immune system, it’s important to note the study’s small sample size — just 24 women and 5 men. Further research is needed to confirm the results, but these initial findings are intriguing nonetheless.

“Nobody had done anything like this tattooing study,” said Lynn, “looking at the potential benefits from a biological perspective.”

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