I just finished posting a blog on my homepage on the power of nurturing our nature for optimizing health outcomes. I discussed the effects of childhood adverse events and parental styles on children’s physical, emotional, and social well-being. You can read about this and how other environmental factors impact health outcomes here. With this information, you can gain a better understanding of your own emotional responses and discover how your lifestyle choices can influence your well-being.
However, did you know that one of the most powerful healing modalities can’t be found in a technique, dietary theory, supplement, or medicine?
In this blog, I want to focus on one of the most important “environmental exposures” we have- our connections to others. Studies strongly support that isolation is an independent risk factor in heart disease and mortality. In fact, recently I just read an article on how single moms have a higher risk of heart issues.
According to Health Day:
Compared to married mothers with jobs, single working mothers in the United States have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, researchers found. They’re also more likely to smoke — a known heart risk — than women with other work and family patterns, said Frank van Lenthe, co-author of the new study. Losing the support of a partner, along with the second income, “may cause stress and result in unhealthy behaviors,” said van Lenthe. He is an associate professor of social epidemiology at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
In a related study, it was found that married people who suffered a heart attack were more apt to recover than single people. The study was comprised of 25,000 adults in England and the researchers reported that those with a spouse had a 14% less chance of dying than their single comparisons. Don’t worry, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you single people should run out and get married, just for the sake of heart health.
One review of the impact of social relationships and disease outcomes found that just as positive social support can decrease risk for many illnesses, negative relationships can cause health detriments. Therefore, it’s the quality, not necessarily quantity, that is thought to create the positive benefits in wellness and disease risk.
Interestingly, these social patterns are thought to start in childhood, once again suggesting the importance of parental influence early in life. However, social ties vary with lifespan, with intimate partners being most important in later adulthood. Knowing this, single, older adults, may want to make sure their emotional intimacy is met in their loved ones and friendships.
Mental health and social support has also been shown to provide benefit in relieving depression. Depression is connected to various physical ailments and cardiovascular risk. In a recent study, it was found that those who had emotionally healthy relationships had a greater chance of complete recovery from depression than those without productive relationship ties.
Though nurture is important, genetics also play a role in our ability to form connections. For example, those with low activity in the gene related to oxytocin were found to have a harder time decoding emotional facial cues and tended to be more anxious about relationships in one study. A 2009 study also linked genetic variations in oxytocin with social empathy and stress reactivity. This is interesting considering that this hormone is also linked to mental health and autism risk.
So, what is the takeaway? Click here to read my previous article on how to boost the “love hormone.” Furthermore, you can take steps to reach out and heal emotional traumas to support building stronger relationships. On my homepage blog, I also discuss the impact of essential oils for emotional health and other factors important in nurturing our nature.
Loneliness, social isolation, and behavioral and biological health indicators in older adults. Health Psychol. 2011 Jul;30(4):377-85. doi: 10.1037/a0022826.
Single Working Moms Carry a Heart Burden. Health Day. June 16, 2016. https://consumer.healthday.com/cardiovascular-health-information-20/misc-stroke-related-heart-news-360/single-working-moms-carry-a-heart-heavy-burden-712037.html
Marriage a Boost for Heart Attack Survivors. Health Day. June 8, 2016. https://consumer.healthday.com/cardiovascular-health-information-20/heart-attack-news-357/married-folks-may-have-a-heart-attack-advantagee-711705.html
Umberson D, Montez JK. Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. Journal of health and social behavior. 2010;51(Suppl):S54-S66. doi:10.1177/0022146510383501.
Two in five formerly depressed adults are happy, flourishing. Science Daily. June 7, 2016. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160607120808.htm
Depression Overview. PubMed Health. January 17, 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072469/
Depression and cardiovascular disease: a clinical review. European Heart Journal. November 25, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/eht462
‘Love Hormone’ Gene May Be Key to Social Life. Health Day. June 21, 2016 https://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/behavior-health-news-56/low-levels-of-oxytocin-gene-may-impair-social-skills-712110.html
Rodrigues SM, Saslow LR, Garcia N, John OP, Keltner D. Oxytocin receptor genetic variation relates to empathy and stress reactivity in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2009;106(50):21437-21441. doi:10.1073/pnas.0909579106.