The Mother of All Health Tips by Julianne Holt-Lunstad


senior member
Concord, NH
Heres a riddle: Other than air, water, sleep and food, what is it that human adults need so badly that doing without it is as harmful to health as being an alcoholic or smoking 15 cigarettes a day? It is so important to your health that not having it is worse for you than being sedentary and is considered twice as dangerous as obesity.

Its not sex -- though that may well be a part of it.

Its social interaction, and believe it or not, having strong ties to other people is so vital that it actually improves your odds that youll live for any given period of time by 50%!

People Need People

These compelling statistics spelling out the importance of human relationships were identified in new research published in the July 2010 issue of PLoS Medicine, which analyzed 148 studies involving the social habits of 300,000 people over an average of seven and a half years. Until now, the link between lack of relationships and risk for death hasnt been widely explored. It was a goal of the authors, from the psychology department of Brigham Young University , to produce a review that is so comprehensive that the public and medical community both sit up and take notice.

The researchers learned that social support provides numerous emotional benefits that translate into good health and longevity, specifically...

Social connections help people handle difficult and uncomfortable emotions, including anxiety and anger.

Friends and family act as helpful naggers -- they tend to encourage healthy lifestyles by urging people who arent healthy to sleep more, lose weight, eat healthfully, see a doctor, exercise or quit smoking.

Social relationships provide meaning and purpose in life, and people who have a purpose are more likely to take better care of themselves and avoid unnecessary health risks.

What Are The Benefits?

"Our relationships influence long-term health through emotional and/or psychological responses that affect physiological processes," says the studys lead author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young. "The data shows us that real or perceived availability of social resources is linked to lower blood pressure, better immune functioning and decreased inflammatory processes for a number of different diseases." As an example, Dr. Holt-Lunstad cites a study in which participants wore a device that measures blood pressure throughout a 24-hour period -- it showed that people with social support tend to have lower blood pressure.

However, despite the numerous studies showing that relationships are associated with healthiness, the exact mechanisms by which they do so are not clear.

Epidemic of Loneliness

Humans are naturally social, note the researchers, but many aspects of modern life lead to isolation. For instance, in our highly mobile society, people often live far from all or most of their family members. Many delay getting married and having children, and because more people of all ages are living alone, loneliness seems to be a growing problem. According to a Duke University study published in the American Sociological Review, over the past two decades, the number of Americans who say that they have no close confidantes has doubled -- to 25%.

Increasingly popular technology that keeps us glued to a computer or cell phone inhibits development of close personal relationships. Acknowledging that the Internet may make it easier to meet people, Dr. Holt-Lunstad said she doesnt believe that online interactions can take the place of in-person engagement. For instance, studies show that physical touch from a loved one has measurable health benefits, including pain reduction and lowered blood pressure. Cancer patients who receive loving touch from friends or family members report less fatigue and nausea than those who did not.

Quality Time

Dr. Holt-Lunstad told me that shes more than once been asked "what about relationships that arent pleasant?"

She said that quality absolutely is important, noting that scientific evidence does show that "negative relationships" can hurt our health. Rather than using that as a reason to be loners, however, Dr. Holt-Lunstad suggests this is evidence that we should work to improve existing relationships in addition to looking for more opportunities to develop new ones.

In fact, said Dr. Holt-Lunstad, the quality of relationships is more significant than the quantity. "Having even one true confidante or someone you know you can turn to when you need a favor is important," she says. "You might have 50 people around you and still feel lonely -- we need to go beyond thinking about numbers."

Whatever the cause of loneliness -- a negative perception of yourself or others, poor social skills, few social contacts or lack of a confidante -- this is one "medical treatment" that can be quite pleasant. Start by calling a friend today!


Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, associate professor of psychology, Brigham Young University , Provo , Utah .


Senior Member
No question that an appropriate degree and form of social connectedness is fundamental to overall health. We humans are primarily social beings. Along with immediate physical harm, the greatest threat you can make against another human is social sanction, rejection, and isolation, the destruction of their important individual social relationships and support network. Something we ME/CFS patients now about all too well.

In fact, said Dr. Holt-Lunstad, the quality of relationships is more significant than the quantity.
Agree totally with that. One or two ongoing and high quality social relationships can sustain you through much serious adversity (though they do not necessarily remove or even alleviate the direct causes of that adversity, of course).


Other than air, water, sleep and food...
An interesting related question is what essentials to life can come from non-living sources (and regularly do)?

There is only two I know of -- water and salt.


Senior Member
Sofa, UK
Interesting link as always ggingues - I do like to see some of these links you post that haven't cropped up elsewhere.

On this one, it seems the right opportunity to post another link I've been meaning to mention for a week or two...because it makes me think: there is very probably an association there, between social support and health outcomes, and it is 'common sense' that it should be do...but cause and effect may not necessarily be quite so simple...anyway, the following two studies are relevant background for us, given the role suggested by some for the amygdala in ME/CFS.

The study below is what I was first reminded of: this study finds that people with larger circles of friends have larger amygdalas - which immediately makes me want to question: are the people with smaller social networks unhealthy because of that, or are the ill health and the smaller social networks both consequences of something smaller amygdalas...or are all three consequences of something else again...there are several possibilities...

Before that I'll also mention this one: there was an intriguing little finding recently which found an association between "fear" and right-wing thinking - interesting because that confirms a few long-standing theories; I recall Tony Benn making a very similar observation about voting patterns. This little (relatively informal) study found that conservatives had larger amygdalas, and smaller anterior cingulates ("associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life")...which does very much figure, to me - I've long felt that political affiliation was likely to be a pretty hard-wired property, given how rare it is for people to change their fundamental political outlook, how early that tends to be fixed, how little effect rational argument has on political beliefs, etc etc...

...but here's the one linking Amygdala size to social network size:

Amygdala at the centre of your social network

A larger emotion-processing brain centre is linked to a bigger circle of friends.

How many friends do you have? A rough answer can be predicted by the size of a small, almond-shaped brain structure that is present in a wide range of vertebrates, scientists report today in Nature Neuroscience.

The researchers studied the amygdala, which is involved in inter-personal functions such as interpreting emotional facial expressions, reacting to visual threats and trusting strangers. Inter-species comparisons in non-human primates have previously shown that amygdala volume is associated with troop size, suggesting that the brain region supports skills necessary for a complex social life1.

On the basis of these past findings, psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, wondered whether a larger amygdala size allows some humans to build a richer social world.

Barrett's team measured the amygdala volume in 58 healthy adults using brain images gathered during magnetic resonance imaging sessions. To construct social networks, the researchers asked the volunteers how many people they kept in regular contact with, and how many groups those individuals belonged to.

They found that participants who had bigger and more complex social networks had larger amygdala volumes. This effect did not depend on the age of the volunteers or their own perceived social support or life satisfaction, suggesting that happiness is not the underlying causal factor that links the size of this brain structure in an individual to their number of friends2.

"We'd all predict this relationship should be found, but [the authors] did it in a very smart way by ruling out other variables," says cognitive neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner of Columbia University in New York City. "That's why I think this paper is going to end up being a citation classic, because it demonstrates the relationship in a way that gives you confidence that it's real," he adds.

Brain teaser

But it's still a mystery how the amygdala contributes to social networks. Perhaps the structure's response to faces, emotions or emotional memories influences whether someone decides to develop and maintain relationships, says Brad Dickerson, a cognitive neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who helped lead the study.

It's likely that social behaviour relies on a much broader set of brain regions, Dickerson says. In the future, the team will use functional neuroimaging approaches to determine the relationship between patterns of brain activity in an individual and the size of social groups to which they belong.

Another important question is whether a big amygdala is a cause or a consequence of having a large social network. "In the end, it's probably some of both," Ochsner says. "But you first had to establish that the relationship really exists before you could address those critical questions."


Senior Member
Ashland, Oregon
I've long felt that political affiliation was likely to be a pretty hard-wired property, given how rare it is for people to change their fundamental political outlook, how early that tends to be fixed, how little effect rational argument has on political beliefs, etc etc...
Hi All,

Mark, I saw a study that was done once which tried to investigate whether there were any significant familial differences between young men who avoided the Vietnam war and went to Canada, and those young men who entered the armed services.

In short, they discovered that those who willingly and without hesitation joined the military when they were drafted, were often found to have fathers who tended to be authoritarian and demanded obedience, often with some pretty rigid parameters.

Those young men avoided the draft were found to have very good verbal communication with their fathers, who encouraged them to think for themselves, instead of blindly accepting what authority tells them to do. (This is quite the oversimplification, but I think it sums it up fairly well).

What I found interesting was they did find one area that was nearly identical to both groups of young men; they all loved their fathers, and had great appreciation for the values they had learned from them.

Regarding the article on the importance of social interaction, I noticed something missing. They never mention the word love. Personally, whereas I agree that social interaction is extraordinarily important, I think love is even more so. I often think of the many PWCs who have extremely limited social interaction, and wonder whether having a very loving pet(s) could alleviate some of the loneliness they experience.

I heard once that giving somebody your attention is giving them your love (though not necessarily in all cases I guess). But giving somebody your attention is also giving them acknowledgment, something PWCs often lack as they are faced with disbelievers on all sides.

This thread reminds me of the importance of maintaining a civil message board where PWCs can come to feel acknowledged, appreciated, loved and more. Didn't somebody say once that love is what makes the world go 'round?

Best to All, Wayne


Senior Member
Very interesting thanks for sharing. I know how isolated CFS/ME has made me and the loneliness really stood out, I think that in some way it does reinforce the feelings that accompany the illness. Bad relationships too, better alone than in bad company. I agree with tthe net not being the same but if it wasn't for places like PR, then maybe I would totally believe I was the only one who could be suffering from this. I think too much pc time may be bad for us due to the screen and the energy factors. People do need people like flowers need sunshine.


Senior Member
Logan, Queensland, Australia
Hi everyone, back in 1993 when I first became interest in me/cfs research, an observation was made by my cfs doc. I dont know if he was right, but the patients who responded best were happily married, those who responded to treatment least were very unhappily married, and the isolated were in between. Of course, we are only talking about probably a few hundred patients, and it was only opinion not objective fact, but i have no reason to doubt it. Bye, Alex