"Our analyses suggest that it may be good for the heart to be connected," said Eric B. Loucks, Ph.D., an instructor in the department of society, human development and health at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. "In general, it seems to be good for health to have close friends and family, to be connected to community groups or religious organisations, and to have a close partner."
Loucks' team studied 3,267 Framingham Heart Study participants, with an average age of 62 years. The researchers measured blood concentrations of four inflammatory markers including interleukin-6 (IL-6).
The researchers asked the participants five questions about their social network: marital status, number of relatives in whom they can confide private matters, number of close friends in whom they can confide private matters, involvement in religious meetings or services and participation in groups such as senior centres.
After considering major known risk factors for heart disease, men with the lowest level of social involvement had the highest levels of IL-6, the study showed. No such link was found in women, however. Researchers noted that the study counted the number of relationships, but did not assess the quality of relationships. Future studies on the quality of relationships will provide knowledge on the effect of social relationships on inflammatory markers in women.
Also, researchers found no association between social involvement and three other markers of inflammation in the blood: C-reactive protein, soluble intercellular adhesion molecule-1 and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1. "These observations need further study," Loucks said.
The researchers conclude that social isolation may influence health behaviours such as smoking and physical activity, which in turn affect IL-6 levels. And, socially isolated people may often be depressed and under more stress than their more outgoing counterparts.
MEDICA.de; Source: American Heart Association