Your disgust may be helpful with warding off infection, study shows

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A new study reveals that those people with less-than-iron stomachs who once competed on “Fear Factor” may have something going for them when it comes to a reduced risk of infection.

Research conducted by scientists at Washington State University sought to discover how nauseating feelings of revulsion have evolved to help us avoid things that could poison us, Yahoo Style reported.

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“Disgust likely evolved to regulate exposure to pathogen-related stimuli and behaviors. One key prediction, that individuals with greater pathogen disgust sensitivity (PDS) will be exposed to fewer pathogens and thus suffer fewer infections, has never been tested directly,” scientists wrote in research that was published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

To test their hypothesis, scientists surveyed 75 indigenous Ecuadorians ages 5 to 59 on how disgusted they were when they thought of hypothetical situations. Some involved of coming into contact with feces or a dead animal. Another scenario was drinking a fermented corn drink. That wasn’t all — it was made by someone with rotten teeth who chewed the corn and spit it into the water.

When the survey concluded, researchers discovered that people who had the greatest levels of repugnance had fewer levels of inflammatory markers in their blood tied to infection.

The rural communities, which involved people who lived in 28 homes, are “characterized by subsistence-based lifestyles and high pathogen burden,” researchers wrote in PNAS.

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“The higher the level of disgust, the lower the level of their inflammatory biomarkers indicative of infections,” Aaron D. Blackwell, an associate professor of anthropology at WSU and co-author of the study said according to The Seattle Times. “While the study shows that disgust functions to protect against infection, it also showed it varies across different environments, based on how easily people can avoid certain things.”

Researchers noted that the “findings support the hypothesis that disgust functions to regulate pathogen exposure, demonstrating the importance of evolved psychological mechanisms in disease avoidance.” Still, it doesn’t demonstrate much for being infected with the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

Blackwell told the newspaper that revulsion “doesn’t protect us very well against pandemics like COVID-19 in part because there isn’t something you can see to avoid.”

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