Mousab Kassem Azzawi
2020 / 10 / 5
Researched by Academy House Team
Edited by Mousab Kassem Azzawi, MSc, MD, PhD.
People have all types of relationships in their lives that constitute an essential part of their existence. These relationships begin as children with their parents, and as adults, people have work partners, colleagues, and friends. In this lecture, you will begin to explore the notion of whether relationships impact health. You will look at relationships with parents, spouses and partners, and even larger social networks to conclude that healthy relationships, social connections—to family, friends, and spiritual communities—and optimism are essential ingredients for good health.
The Harvard Mastery of Stress Study, in which 126 male Harvard students were studied for 35 years, looked at whether parental relationships influenced disease in midlife. Participants who identified their relationships with their parents as strained had a 100 percent incidence of significant health risk—including coronary disease, cancer, hypertension, ulcers, and alcohol abuse—35 years later. Amazingly, participants whose relationships with their parents were warm and close cut this risk from 100 percent to 47 percent.
Researchers reasoned that the results can be explained because we learn everything from our parents, including nutrition, exercise habits, coping styles, and conflict resolution. Our parents also give us our spiritual values and spiritual practices.
A study conducted over 50 years at Johns Hopkins University concluded that cancer rates correlated closely with the degree of closeness to a parent.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, which was conducted by a physician named Vincent Felitti on adverse childhood events, found that the more trauma a child faces—such as fighting in the home, hitting among parents, parents being in jail, and sexual abuse—the higher the risk of major illness in midlife and the higher the risk of drug and alcohol abuse.
In a study that was reported in The American Journal of Medicine, about 10,000 men who were identified with three´-or-more cardiac risk factors were asked about how they perceived their wife’s love. Five years later, those who had responded that their spouses showed them love had a 50 percent lower rate of angina— the manifestation of coronary artery disease—onset than those who had responded that their wife did not show them love.
In 1992, a study that was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association asked 1,400 men and women whose actual coronary anatomy was known whether they were married´-or-had a confidant. People who were not married and had no close confidant had three times the death rate of the other groups over five years. If people have a close connection with someone, they often have much less stress.
A study of over 9,000 British civil servants that looked at the relationship between unhappy marriages and heart disease was conducted over a period of 12 years. Researchers concluded that unhappy marriages (which often contain a great deal of stress) led to 34 percent more coronary events—regardless of variables such as gender and social status.
There are many factors that contribute to a good relationship versus a bad one, including being optimistic. A group of couples was studied over a two-year period, and researchers found that optimism is clearly linked to happier and more satisfied romantic relationships. They concluded that this was due to greater cooperative problem solving.
Optimists see the good in their partner--;-- they are not focusing on the little things that sometimes can become annoying. Research shows that optimists have a 55 percent lower risk of death from all causes and a 23 percent lower risk of cardiovascular death.
In the 1950s and 1960s, epidemiologists discovered that a group of Italians that had moved from a small town in Italy to Roseto, Pennsylvania, were not having heart attacks at the same rate as people found in the surrounding communities. However, those family members who moved away from Roseto developed heart disease at the same rate as whatever community they moved to.
Epidemiologists attributed the protection from heart disease to the social network—the household and the community—and called this phenomenon the Roseto effect. It was common for households in Roseto to contain three generations, and there was a high degree of social interaction and traditional family values. After the 1970s, when children began to move away, there was a breakdown of these multi-generational households and an increase in heart attack prevalence, possibly because of increased stress.
A researcher named Nancy Frasure-Smith conducted a study that looked at social support and depression. She studied 880 people who had already had a heart attack and found that even in people who were severely depressed, the effect of the depression on their cardiac death rates was negated if they felt a good sense of social support.
The Alameda County in the United States Study was a 17-year study of 7,000 men and women that found that people who lack social contact—those who do not have friends, relatives,´-or-social groups—had a 3.1-fold higher death rate. This study controlled for such variables as age, sex, smoking, eating, and alcohol.
In a study that was conducted in 1997, 276 healthy people were asked to have the rhinovirus placed in their nose, and those with the least number of social connections were four times more likely to get the cold virus infection.
A study of over 700 older adults looked at altruism as a guiding moral principle in the daily life—that it is better to give than to receive—by pairing the adults with younger children to read, colour,´-or-have some sort of interaction. The researchers found that those who gave love and support to others had significantly fewer health issues.
David Speigel conducted a study in which he created a support group to help women adjust to their diagnosis of breast cancer. The women with breast cancer were asked to participate in a 90-minute group session once a week for one year. The women in the support group showed less depression, anger, and anxiety, but they also lived twice as long as women in the control group.
A similar study was done that involved patients with melanoma, a malignant form of skin cancer. Patients were randomized to six weeks of group support versus a control and were studied for five years. Researchers found 13 recurrences of melanoma in the control group versus seven in the group that went to group support and 10 deaths in the control group versus only three in the support group.