For many years tattoos were associated with, shall we say, the tougher members of society, warriors, soldiers, sailors, airmen and erm.....those whose grasp of the law was somewhat loose. These days that view isn't quite so common but an American study, published in the American Journal of Human Biology, suggests there may be some truth in it.
In a press release from the University of Alabama, Dr Christopher Lynn likens getting tattooed to going to the gym when you're out of condition. The first time you go it hurts, a lot, it takes days to get over the aches and pains but, if you continue to train, your body adjusts and it becomes more tolerant to the stresses and strains of a rigorous work out.
As Dr Lynn puts it, "After the stress response, your body returns to an equilibrium. 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.”
In short...You get stronger!
Well, apparently, getting tattooed could be just the same.
The first tattoo you get can actually reduce your tolerance to minor infections, such as the common cold, but the more you get the more your immune system adjusts and helps you to fight off such illnesses.
So how did Dr Lynn come to this conclusion? Well, he found 29 volunteers, (24 women and five men) who submitted to saliva testing before and after tattoo sessions. His team measured levels of Immunoglobin A, what Dr Lynn calls a, "...front line of defence against some of the common infections we encounter..." and Cortisol, a hormone known to suppress the immune system in times of stress.
After the first tattoo, the levels of Immunoglobin A dropped due to the Cortisol's response to the stress of being tattooed, this was apparently as expected. However, in people who were tattooed frequently, this reduction in Immunoglobin A was less marked.
When you get tattooed your body gears up to fight infections, your new tattoo is an open wound and therefore a possible gateway for infection. Your body knows this and gets ready to do battle with any nasties trying to gain entry. If you are tattooed regularly your body, it appears, puts itself on permanent alert making you more able to stave of minor infections.
Personally, I think there may well be something in this. In the days before I was at the tattooist almost every month I used to suffer greatly when I got a cold (not man flu, that's not real). My colds would drag on for months, but now if I have a cold for a week, I'm surprised.
Did I ever make the connection between the two? Nah, I'm not an Associate Professor in Anthropology, but Dr Lynn is and he knows science and shit, so I'm going with it.