Those with chronic liver disease frequently look to their physician or pharmacy to prevent their liver disease from progressing. However, strengthening your social life might be just as important for keeping your liver healthy.
A reflection of our times, an increasing number of adults lead a relatively solitary life. Unfortunately, the health of those without a solid social network doesn’t fare as well as the health of those surrounded by friends. Especially important for those battling an ailment like chronic liver disease, the value of friendship holds unparalleled rewards.
You needn’t be an outcast of society to have few to no friends. A growing number of Americans are finding themselves feeling utterly alone:
· Our technology-based culture enables people to work, shop and seek entertainment without ever leaving their couch.
· The rise in natural disasters and the struggling economy have made moving to a new, unknown location a necessity for some folks.
· The pervasive loss of jobs and sharp spike in unemployment boots many more out of their social network.
Those who don’t get out much often succumb to depression, a condition that can make people vulnerable to the worsening of many illnesses, including heart disease, alcoholism, diabetes and liver disease.
Why Friendships Are Key
While depression from being alone has a negative effect on physical health, a social network provides just the opposite. Besides simply having fun, spending time with friends yields a multitude of long-term physical and emotional health benefits. Over the past several decades, clinical studies consistently demonstrate the importance of friends and good relationships for aging gracefully and remaining in good health. For those with chronic liver disease, the physical and emotional benefits of friendship can directly impact longevity.
Some of the evidence demonstrating the importance of friendship is as follows:
· As published in a 1993 edition of Psychosomatic Medicine, a six-year study of 736 middle-aged Swedish men found that attachment to a single person didn’t appear to reduce the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease, but having friendships did. Only smoking was as important a risk factor in these catastrophic events as lack of social support.
· Published by Harvard researchers in 1999, a 13-year study of almost 3,000 senior citizens found that social activities such as playing bingo or attending church were as important to survival as regular exercise.
· As published in a 2005 edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a 10-year Australian study of nearly 1,500 participants over age 70 found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends.
· As published in a 2006 edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, a California study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. And, notably, proximity and the amount of contact with a friend weren’t associated with survival – just having friends was protective.
Why the Liver Benefits
Experts offer many reasons why being socially engaged leads to better health. However, most agree that on a biological level, this correlation is because positive emotions change the body’s chemistry – causing it to produce substances that ease pain, reduce inflammation and fortify the immune system. Anyone battling chronic liver disease can profit from this chemical shift directly – especially to reduce liver inflammation and strengthen immunity against illness.
Emotional health also has an effect on how well the liver functions. Based on several alternative healthcare traditions (like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayuverdic Medicine), depression and anger can impede the flow of blood through the liver. For those with chronic liver disease, the uninhibited flow of blood through the liver is especially important for maintaining health. This is because liver disease will worsen with longstanding liver congestion.
In the quest for better liver health, many people turn to doctors, drugs or other costly interventions. However, these approaches overlook friendship as a powerful tool in fighting liver disease. Doctors agree that socializing is critical for staying happy and healthy, just as loneliness can shorten life span. As such, those embroiled in a solitary existence are encouraged to build their social network – not just for the enjoyment of friendships, but also for the health benefits to their liver.
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