In a study examining factors that influence successful aging, researchers found that among a group of men in their 70s, social isolation was linked to increased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and fibrinogen in the blood. These blood components are elevated during inflammation.
Recent research has suggested that inflammation in the body is a risk marker for cardiovascular disease. People with elevated CRP and fibrinogen have higher risks for heart disease and stroke.
"Social isolation may influence these different inflammatory markers and may be one way social relationships influence our health," said lead author Eric B. Loucks, Ph.D., research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. He is a co-investigator for this endeavor in the ongoing MacArthur Successful Aging Study, a research project which follows 1,189 men and women from Durham, N.C., Boston, and New Haven, Conn.
Social relationships have been linked to better health and protection against heart disease in many studies. However, the unanswered question is how social relationships translate into biological processes that affect a person's health.
Loucks and his colleagues at Harvard and the University of California, Los Angeles, investigated CRP, IL-6 and fibrinogen as potential biological links between friends, family and health.
As part of that study, researchers drew and froze blood samples in 1988. They gave a questionnaire to participants to gauge their social relationships. The questions included marital status, the number of close friends and family members, and the extent of religious and social club participation.
In 1988, the potential importance of inflammatory markers in heart disease had not been fully recogn
Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association