Heartbreak may be more literal than we assume

A recent study has shown that deterioration of relationships could lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in men.

There has long been evidence that marital relationships impact upon longevity and health – married couples seem to live longer, be happier, and have a lower body mass index, than single people – but the reason for this has been debated.

Some claim this is because relationships can help to ‘buffer stress’ and provide support, but the research has not yet been conclusive.

One field of thought is that partnership brings with it protective effects, whereas another theory is that healthy people are more likely to be married or ‘selected’ for marriage than unhealthy people.

Five scientists from the University of Bristol and one from the University of Glasgow decided to investigate these suggestions.

To do so, they obtained data from the ALSPAC study from Bristol, a longitudinal observational study investigating health and development in over 14,000 children, and their parents over the course of 19 years.

Following a series of strict requirements for participants, the scientists cut down the number of people to 620 who fit the requirements and had complete data.

With this, the team investigated whether there was any correlation between marital quality and cardiovascular disease in men, as men tend to have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease than women in general.

They included in their analysis adjustments for socioeconomic background and other such compounding factors.

What they found was that better quality marriages brought with them better blood-lipid profiles and reduced body mass index, as well as associations with healthier cholesterol and blood pressure.

Taken together, it seems that men with lower quality marriages have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

The work made a point of stating that the reason, or reasons, for this finding is/are unknown.

One suggestion made is based on a previous finding that men and women are more likely to make a positive health behaviour change if their partner also changes their behaviour; the suggestion being that the quality of the relationship may modify this effect.

Although the scientists behind this work focused on men, previous work has looked into the correlation between women’s health and the quality of marriage.

For example, work from the American Medical Association in 2005 found that women in dissatisfying marriages were at higher risk of metabolic syndrome, a state in which a person’s health tends towards diabetes or cardiovascular disease but hasn’t quite reached that level yet, than women in more satisfying and fulfilling marriages.

The work was conducted on marriage but may very well be applicable to unmarried couples: further studies would need to be conducted in order to confirm.

It would seem, then, that we owe it not only to our partners but also to ourselves to make our relationships as satisfying and high quality as possible. So, in the name of your cardiovascular health, please, have a happy Valentine’s Day!

Image credit: Cathal Mac an Bheatha via unsplash

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