People who are married have lower levels of stress hormone – which can in turn decrease risk of heart diseases as well as cancer. The study suggested that married people are healthier than those who are single, divorced or widowed.
A new Carnegie Mellon University study provides the first biological evidence to explain how marriage impacts health. Professor Sheldon Cohen and co-authors found that married individuals had lower levels of stress hormone cortisol. CMU’s Michael L.M. Murphy and the University of Pittsburgh’s Denise Janicki-Deverts were also part of the research team.
Published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, the findings support the belief that unmarried people face more psychological stress than married individuals.
“It’s is exciting to discover a physiological pathway that may explain how relationships influence health and disease,” said Brian Chin, a Ph.D. student in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Department of Psychology.
Prolonged stress is associated with increased levels of cortisol which can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate inflammation, which in turn promotes the development and progression of many diseases.
For the study, the researcher examined the association between current marital status and two indices of cortisol — cortisol production and cortisol’s daily rhythm — in a community sample of 572 healthy men and women aged 21–55.
“Participants provided salivary cortisol samples during waking hours on three non-consecutive separate days to calculate diurnal cortisol levels and slopes,” the authors explained.
The results showed that the married participants had lower cortisol levels than the never married or previously married people across the three day period. The researchers also compared each person’s daily cortisol rhythm — typically, cortisol levels peak when a person wakes up and decline during the day. Those who were married showed a faster decline, a pattern that has been associated with less heart disease, and longer survival among cancer patients.
“These data provide important insight into the way in which our intimate social relationships can get under the skin to influence our health,” said laboratory director and co-author Sheldon Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty University Professor of Psychology.