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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 08:05 GMT
Breakfast may be flu defence
Breakfast dish
Early morning fry-up: Good for immune system?
People who eat breakfast may be better equipped to fight off colds and flu, says a scientist.

Mothers have always described it as "the most important meal of the day", but in modern society, many people are more inclined to skip breakfast.

However, research at the School of Psychology at Cardiff University suggests that the convenience may not pay off - particularly in the winter flu season.

Professor Andy Smith recruited 188 volunteers, who each kept a diary over 10 weeks of their eating habits.

These were contrasted with how many infections such as colds and flu the volunteer remembered having over the period.

The research found that those who developed more than one illness over the 10 weeks were less likely to be breakfasters.

This group had also suffered more "negative life events", such as job stress or bereavement, in the past 12 months.

Stressful lives

A separate study looked at 498 healthy students who were asked to come to see him if they developed any sort of upper respiratory tract infection - such as a cold.

The 188 who did so were more likely to be smokers - or reported themselves as having "stressful" lives.

"The body produces millions of white blood cells - and it's an army that needs feeding.

Professor Ron Eccles, Common Cold Centre, Cardiff
Professor Smith said: "These studies have provided evidence of the effects of upper respiratory tract infections on mood and performance.

"They have shown that psychosocial factors and health related behaviours may well influence susceptability to colds and flu and the nature and extent of the symptoms."

The reasons why breakfast might be a protective factor are not entirely clear.

Immune food

Professor Ron Eccles, from the Common Cold Centre - also at Cardiff University - said that the most likely explanation was the effect of an early morning feed on the body's immune system.

He said: "The body produces millions of white blood cells - and it's an army that needs feeding.

"However, people missing breakfast may be those who have a lot of stress in their lives, so it may be this which makes infection more likely."

Another finding of the study was that people who had multiple illnesses were less likely to drink alcohol.

Professor Eccles said that small amounts of alcohol could well have a relaxant effect, which might allow the immune system to function more effectively.

See also:

03 Jan 01 | Health
Skipped meals health risk
21 May 01 | Health
Children 'breakfast on junk food'
23 Aug 01 | Health
Single men 'die younger'
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