Tattoos And Immunity – An Unlikely Duo
Holistic Living

Tattoos And Immunity – An Unlikely Duo


15 March 2016


Tattoos are a striking art form that has been revered and feared throughout its rich and vibrant history. Done for underlying spiritual, artistic, symbolic, social and personal justifications, perhaps the next trend to foray into is to get tattooed for your health!

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It may seem like a wild statement, but it is with scientific merit. According to a study published in the American Journal of Human Biology, it suggested that having multiple tattoos is able to strengthen the body’s immunological responses. Tattooing may “stimulate the immune system in a manner similar to a vaccination, to be less susceptible to future pathogenic infiltration”.

This was how the study worked: saliva samples from 29 volunteers before and after they got tattoos were collected, with nine receiving tatts for the first time ever. What were they looking for in the spit of their subjects? The antibody immunoglobulin A, which plays a crucial role in the immune function of the mucous membranes and acts as a front line of defense for infections like the common cold. The researchers also measured the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), which supresses immune response.

What they found was first-timers had dramatically decreased immunoglobulin A compared to those with more tattoo experience, reflecting that the stress they experienced elevated their immunoglobulin A levels. However, first-timers are more susceptible to catching a cold after a tatt session. Christopher Lynn, author of the study, explains that the process is strikingly similar to exercising. If you are working out after an extended period of inactivity, you’ll feel sore and weary; but if you consistently exercise, your body habitually adjusts to your workouts and the soreness fades.

This discovery however, is not tattoos’ first brush with the world of health and wellness. Anthropologist Lars Krutak reveals that the second oldest use (the oldest being cosmetic) for getting inked was purely medicinal, and cites Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old mummified ‘Iceman’ as a prime example. An estimated 80% of the 75 tattoos on Ötzi overlapped with Chinese acupuncture points to treat rheumatism, a medical condition Ötzi had.

A more current experiment saw a patient plagued with asthma, rheumatism, headaches, tinnitus and a snoring habit obtaining tattoos aligned with acupuncture points associated with healing these ailments. Patterns similar to Ötzi were inked on these identified points. After three months, the patient reported that most of his pains and symptoms had eased, if not completely disappeared. Closer to home, the Kayan people of Borneo would tattoo dots on sprained joints, and full mobility would return within a week.

Although instances of tattoos being utilised for medicinal purposes in a non-traditional context have yet to be discovered, as with most things, tattoos are not without its risks. Infections, possible allergic reactions and scarring are some of the common health concerns associated with tattoos. Moreover, chronic skin complications, such as rashes, swelling, and severe itching could last for months and in several cases, years. Unhygienic needles are another health risk.

So the big question lingering in the minds of most after reading this – how effective are tattoos at enhancing our immunities? Lynn notes that the immunity-boosting effects are considered an extended outcome, and would only apply if a person led a generally healthy and risk-free lifestyle.

But, the research still offers some interesting insights into how internal tolerance and resistance can be built up through uncommon means. Share the news with your inked friends today!