Valentine's Day: Good for the Heart
Chocolate, red wine, and other expressions of love can be good for you.
The word "love" has stumped people for ages. It has
made people feel like they're floating, or become crybabies upon hearing a
certain song. It has also made otherwise sensible people do crazy things.
Yet, as mysterious a force love is, there seems to be no
surprise that it is capable of many, many things.
How about improving heart health? As ludicrous as it may sound
-- yes -- there is proof that it can do that, too, and more.
"The evidence is very strong that good relationships have
health benefits," says Blair Justice, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology
at the University of Texas School of Public Health.
According to Justice, various investigators have looked into
different types of relationships (i.e. marriage, family, and friendship), and
have shown that love can:
- Help prevent plaque buildup in the arteries.
- Protect against heart disease.
- Boost levels of antibodies in the body.
- Reduce levels of stress chemicals, which can damage the immune system.
- Lower risk of disease in general.
- Decrease risk of early death.
- Lengthen life.
Love's protective effect against heart disease has been tested
in several settings.
Researchers who kept track of Italian American immigrants in
Roseto, Penn., found that people who maintained close family ties as in their
homeland tended to have less incidence of heart disease compared with other
American communities, even though they ate a high-fat diet.
"Gradually, over time, a certain percentage of these
(Italian American) families started to adopt more American ways -- getting more
interested in the fast life, fancy cars, and country club memberships -- and
they started getting the same incidence of heart disease as people who had been
in this country," says Justice.
A long-term study was also done on Japanese Americans who moved
to Hawaii and California, and the results were similar. Immigrants who adopted
more American ways tended to have more incidence of heart disease compared with
those who kept their traditional close family ties.
One theory explaining love's effect on physical health involves
human nature. "It's instinctual to have this need for touching and
talking," says Justice. He says the personal contact turns on a part of the
nervous system, which has a calming effect, and allows for a smaller amount
stress chemicals in the body.