Researchers say there is ‘growing evidence’ that our relationships can have a dramatic effect on our health.
The latest research found those unhappy in marriage have thicker carotid arteries and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
‘Growing evidence suggests that the quality and patterns of one’s social relationships may be linked with a variety of health outcomes, including heart disease,’ said Thomas Kamarck of the University of Pittsburgh, who led the research.
‘The contribution of this study is in showing that these sorts of links may be observed even during the earliest stages of plaque development [in the carotid artery], and that these observations may be rooted not just in the way that we evaluate our relationships in general but in the quality of specific social interactions with our partners as they unfold during our daily lives.’
Published this month in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers found that relationship stress has a major effect.
Given the size of the effect in the study and the relationship between carotid artery plaque and disease, researcher Nataria Joseph’s findings indicate that those with marital interactions light on the positive may have an 8.5 percent greater risk of suffering heart attack or stroke than those with a surfeit of good feelings.
‘These findings may have wider implications,’ said Joseph, who is now at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
‘It’s another bit of support for the thought that marital or serious romantic relationships play a significant role in overall health.
‘Biological, psychological, and social processes all interact to determine physical health.’
Joseph says that these associations could not be accounted for by other behavioral or biological risk factors and were also independent of marital interaction frequency, nonmarital social interaction, or personality factors.
The findings were consistent across age, sex, race, and education level.
There are limitations to the study, Joseph says, because it is a cross-sectional study with all the data collected at one point in time.
Causality, therefore, has not been proven, though a strong correlation has been established.
‘What it does show,” she says, “is that health care providers should look at relationships as a point of assessment.
‘They are likely to promote health or place health at risk.’