Studies have established that heart attack victims have a lower survival rate if they are isolated than they do if they have social support. In fact, social isolation predicts 1-year survival rates as much as physiological risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Scientists, however, have been unable to identify the mechanisms for why isolation impacts the health of heart attack survivors.
New research on mice finds animals that live alone and experience a heart attack suffer five to eight times more neuronal damage than mice that live with others. Zachary Weil, co-author of the study, told Newswise, “In these mice, living with others seemed to provide strong protection from some of the damaging results of a heart attack.”
Researchers at Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research divided mice into two groups—those that lived alone and those that lived with four other mice—for a period of 2 weeks. The scientists then induced heart attacks in the mice and compared the extent of brain damage. Evaluation revealed that the socially isolated mice experienced much greater damage from inflammation and from an elevated hormonal stress response than the mice that lived in communal arrangements.
Study authors emphasized the need for more research to replicate these findings and to characterize and promote the type of social relationships that promote human health. The study appeared in Molecular Psychiatry (2008; 13, 913–15).