But even after this serious problem has developed, a supportive marriage is associated with improved survival. The well-established links between stress, depression, social isolation, and heart disease make it easy to see how a good marriage might protect the heart. But cancer is a different matter. Indeed, there is little evidence that marriage reduces the overall risk of getting cancer.
Still, marriage can influence the outcome. For example, a study of 27, cancer cases found that unmarried individuals were more likely to have advanced disease at the time of diagnosis than married persons. Unmarried patients were less likely to receive treatment than married patients — but even among people who received cancer therapy, marriage was linked to improved survival.
Patients who have intact marriages when cancer is diagnosed have better survival than patients who are separated at the time of diagnosis. Prostate cancer is a particular concern for men. To find out how marriage affects survival, scientists from the University of Miami investigated , men with the disease. Over a year period, married men survived far longer median 69 months than separated and widowed patients 38 months ; men who had never married had an intermediate survival rate 49 months.
And researchers from Harvard and UCLA have identified similar survival benefits for married patients with bladder cancer, a predominantly male disease. Although the data are sparse, marriage appears to have a positive effect on a variety of health outcomes. Mental health is the most prominent; married men have a lower risk of depression and a higher likelihood of satisfaction with life in retirement than their unmarried peers. Being married has also been linked to better cognitive function, a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, improved blood sugar levels, and better outcomes for hospitalized patients.
In contrast, widowhood boosts the likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases in men, but not women. It's often said that old married couples come to resemble each other. That may or may not be true, but according to Italian researchers, married couples do have similar cardiac risk factors.
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In their report, the scientists reviewed 71 earlier studies that covered more than , couples. All in all, the spouses demonstrated many shared risk factors, including hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, obesity, and smoking. Some of the similarities can be explained by the tendency for people to choose spouses like themselves, and some of the shared risk factors depend on lifestyle habits partners have in common.
That's why Australian doctors have reported success with a program that seeks to improve nutrition and exercise habits in both spouses simultaneously.
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That's couples therapy with a new twist. Because women live longer than men, women are far more likely to lose a spouse than are men. But spousal bereavement is actually more serious for men, and a study from California tells just how serious it is.
The study did not measure the psychological and socioeconomic burdens of bereavement. Instead, the researchers focused on another impact of spousal bereavement, the mortality of the surviving spouse. The study tracked 12, married people over a to year period.
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During that time, 1, men and 3, women lost their spouses. Healthy men who lost a wife were 2. The risk was greatest from seven to 12 months after the loss, but an elevated death rate persisted for more than two years.
Shakespeare was right when he wrote of "deadly grief. Research from around the world confirms that the death of a spouse increases the likelihood of illness and disability in the surviving spouse, and that men are more vulnerable than women. One reason that widowers fare so poorly is that nutrition and other health habits deteriorate when men are on their own; even a wife's hospitalization is hazardous to her husband's health. Another factor is social isolation. And a study of 1, men in the Boston area linked the death of a spouse to a decline in testosterone levels comparable to the drop that occurs during 10 years of aging.
Do the health benefits of marriage extend to same-sex spouses or partners in civil unions? Because such parings are uncommon and new in the U.
But same-sex partnerships were sanctioned in Denmark in , and a study evaluated 4, men and 3, women who entered such relationships between and The men who were in same-sex partnerships before highly effective anti-HIV drug therapy became available in had a high mortality rate. Women and men who entered same-sex unions after had mortality rates similar to the general population after a small excess during the first few years of their union.
But since the researchers did not compare the mortality rates of homosexual couples with those of unmarried gays and lesbians, it's impossible to know whether same-sex unions are associated with health benefits comparable to those enjoyed by married heterosexuals.
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Good marriages promote health and longevity, but stressful and shattered marriages have the opposite effect, especially for men. The biological explanations center on stress. Martial conflicts produce elevated levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline, which raise blood pressure. Marital stress also triggers the production of cytokines, small proteins that set the inflammatory cascade in motion. Inflammation is a newly recognized cardiac risk factor, and divorced men have higher levels of inflammatory markers than married men.
The behavioral factors are no less important. Unmarried, divorced, and widowed men don't eat as well as married men. They are less likely to exercise but are more likely to smoke, drink excessively, and engage in other risky behaviors. In contrast, married men are more likely to get regular medical care and to benefit from a higher standard of living. But while senior citizens who live with a spouse get better preventive care than those who live alone, elders who live with an adult child do not get better care. Loneliness, depression, and social isolation also contribute to the excess mortality associated with bereavement, divorce, or never having married.
Clearly, subtracting a wife greatly increases a man's risk of isolation. Sign in to Purchase Instantly.
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