Companionship May Speed Healing

Wounds Heal Faster When Social Support Is Available

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 5, 2004 -- There's something healing about good company. That's the indication of new research from Ohio State University.

"Stress delays wound healing in humans and other animals, and social contact helps counteract this delay," says Courtney DeVries, assistant psychology professor at Ohio State, in a news release.

To learn why, DeVries and her colleagues did a series of tests on hamsters with skin wounds to find out how social companionship influenced healing. In the study, the researchers varied the conditions of housed hamsters to see if positive social interactions would improve recovery.

A group of wounded hamsters were paired with siblings; others were socially isolated. When exposed to stress, the isolated animals fared worst. They had increases in the stress hormone cortisol and their wounds became larger and lasted longer, researchers say.

Oxytocin, a hormone released during social contact, appears to play a key role.

In a second experiment, isolated hamsters were treated with oxytocin. The oxytocin blocked the increases in stress hormones seen previously when the hamsters were exposed to stress. The treatment resulted in 25% faster wound healing compared with isolated hamsters that did not receive oxytocin.

Meanwhile, treatment with a medication to block the release of oxytocin slowed healing in hamsters that were allowed to bond.

The lesson? Positive social interaction helps healing. That could easily apply to humans as well as hamsters. The researchers say that socially isolated people, particularly those with diabetes, cancer, AIDS, and organ transplantation, may run a greater risk of slow-healing wounds due to stress, which could ultimately lead to wound infection.

"Having a companion may help wounds heal faster during stressful times," says DeVries, whose study recently appeared in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

SOURCE: DeVries, C. Psychoneuroendocrinology, Sept. 2004, vol 29. News release, Ohio State University.

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