David Kohn of the Baltimore Sun reports on research led by Lynn Giles, a professor at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. Giles found that found that people who had more friends and who spent more time with them tended to live longer.
The most interactive group, people who had five or more close friends and talked with them regularly, were 22 percent less likely to die than those who were least connected - no close friends and few social contacts of any kind, Kohn wrote.
Experts quoted in the article pondered whether the health benefits were due to getting off one's butt to see friends, whether friends encourage us to try harder, or whether those with more friends had healthier lifestyles in general.
A UCLA sociologist said,
"There's growing evidence to show that social experience can affect your biology."
I thought almost everyone accepted this by now. Kohn goes on to say,
Some scientists suspect that social connection may trigger release of the neuro-hormone oxytocin, which can reduce blood pressure and anxiety.
Candace Pert, the neuroscientist who discovered the opioid receptors in the body, has a wonderful explanation of how oxytocin and other neuropeptides create health and homeostasis in our bodies. In her book, Molecules of Emotion, she talks about ligands, which are the neuropeptides like oxytocin that bind with receptors in the brain- and all over the body. She writes,
...These receptors and ligands have come to be seen as "information molecules" -- the basic units of a language used by cells throughout the organism to communicate across systems such as the endocrine, neurological, gastrointestinal, and even the immune system. Overall, the musical hum of the receptors as they bind to their many ligands ... creates an integration of structure and function that allows the organism to run smooth, intelligently.
In other words, oxytocin and other neurochemicals play roles all over the body, not just in the brain. So they're important for our allover health, as well as emotional health.
The study appears in the July issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.