MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Brian Chin, B.S. PhD Student
Department of Psychology
Carnegie Mellon University
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Numerous studies demonstrate that married people tend to be healthier than those who are single, divorced, or widowed. However, less clear are the psychological and biological mechanisms through which this occurs. To this end, recent research has focused on how the unmarried may experience either greater amounts of stress or different types of stressful situations that put them at increased risk for morbidity and mortality.
Models linking stress and disease often implicate the HPA axis as one pathway through which these stressful experiences can affect health. One way to index HPA axis activity is by measuring cortisol, a hormone that plays a regulatory role for many immunological and metabolic processes in the body. The primary aim of our study was to examine whether cortisol could be one biological mechanism through which marital status impacts health.
Over three non-consecutive days, 572 healthy adult participants between 21-55 years old provided multiple saliva samples that were used to measure cortisol. Relative to their never married or previously married counterparts, married people had both lower cortisol outputs and steeper daily declines – both of which have been shown to be associated with better health outcomes.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: This study provides some of the first evidence for a biological pathway through which marital status can affect health. These findings provide important initial insights into how our most intimate social relationships can get under the skin to impact health outcomes.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: Future work should continue to explore other biological pathways through which marital status impacts health. Furthermore, additional research is needed to clarify the specific factors associated with being married or unmarried that are important for physical health outcomes.
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Brian Chin, Michael L.M. Murphy, Denise Janicki-Deverts, Sheldon Cohen. Marital status as a predictor of diurnal salivary cortisol levels and slopes in a community sample of healthy adults. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2017; 78: 68 DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.01.016
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