By Dr. Sarah LoBisco, ND


One of the most important predictors of overall lifespan may surprise you. Even though the lack of its existence has caused many mood imbalances, anxiety, higher stress responses (resulting in hormonal dysfunction), and lower quality of life, it is overlooked.  Forget that it’s an independent risk factor to overall mortality rates, including to cardiovascular events (the number one cause of death in the United States), it still is cast aside and ignored by the big markers of hsCRP, cholesterol, TSH, or IL-6. Curious?

One of the most influential cardiologists of our time, Dr. Dean Ornish, has written a whole book on its topic. Most people would never guess what health aspect I’m speaking about. It has nothing to do with cholesterol, homocysteine, or thyroid levels. It is much more abstract and much harder to measure than by taking typical serum lab chemistries. Still, its importance is integral for maintaining a well-meaning and satisfying, healthy life. What the heck is it? It is the aspect of human support and connection.  Shocked?

According to Dr. Dean Ornish’s book, Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy:

  • In 1985, Dr. Berkman at California Department of Health Services studied 7,000 men and women living in Almedia county.
  • Those who lacked social and community ties were 1.9 to 3.1 times more likely to die during nine year follow-up period independent of age, gender, race, SES, smoking, alcoholic beverage consumption, overeating, physical activity and utilization of preventative health services.
  • Those who lived longest had close social ties and healthful behaviors
  • In additional 8 year follow-up: those who were socially isolated or who just felt isolated had higher risk of dying of cancer

Circulation, a publication of the American Heart Association, reported the following link between low social support (SS) and heart attack reoccurrence:

Our findings associating low SS with worse health status and more depressive symptoms are consistent with previous studies in cardiac populations.

Furthermore, the link seems to be even more important for women, with low social connection contributing to depressive symptoms, as well as heart attack rates.


Do you find it as intriguing as I do that the  number one cause of deaths in our country , heart disease, is linked to social isolation while the rise in diseases that create social interaction obstacles, such as Alzheimer’s and Autism, are becoming more predominant?  Society is changing how we interact, not just through technology and smart phones, but by the environmental and lifestyle choices it presents to mediate our decisions to stay connected, and hence, affect our health.

I do not wish to downplay the importance of diet, genetics, and environmental factors. I’ll get to that later. Let me ask you this though: Is the solution to our chronic disease patterns truly a pill to block cholesterol or acetylcholine, or to give our children stimulants, antidepressants, and antipsychotics? Furthermore, on another note, is it truly related to just one environmental factor? Let’s consider the difference here in correlation and causation.



I already spoke about Alzheimer’s, so, let’s start with the controversial subject of vaccinations in children and their reported adverse effects of increased mortality and autism rates. According to a study in Human and Experimental Toxicology:

The infant mortality rate (IMR) is one of the most important indicators of the socio-economic well-being and public health conditions of a country. The US childhood immunization schedule specifies 26 vaccine doses for infants aged less than 1 year—the most in the world—yet 33 nations have lower IMRs.

The mean IMRs of all nations within each group were then calculated. Linear regression analysis of unweighted mean IMRs showed a high statistically significant correlation between increasing number of vaccine doses and increasing infant mortality rates, with r ¼ 0.992 (p ¼ 0.0009).

 Using the Tukey-Kramer test, statistically significant differ-ences in mean IMRs were found between nations giving 12–14 vaccine doses and those giving 21–23, and 24–26 doses. A closer inspection of correlations between vaccine doses, biochemical or synergistic toxicity, and IMRs is essential.

In this case of vaccinations, the effect of mortality may not be just related to vaccination, but to multiple factors and their interactions. Genetics, nutrition, nutrigenomics, living environment, social connections, immunological readiness, and our toxic world all interplay here. In other words, perhaps a factor is OVER stimulation vs. no stimulation, or the wrong kind of stimulation for the wrong child at the wrong time. It’s a matrix model and the decision and use of vaccinations is a complex factor one should be well informed about. (See my vaccine resources section on the left hand side of my homepage).

Dr. Mercola reported in his recent review of the literature the following:

According to CBS news: “Ratajczak also looks at a factor that hasn’t been widely discussed: human DNA contained in vaccines… she discusses the increase in autism incidences corresponding with the introduction of human DNA to MMR vaccine, and suggests the two could be linked. Ratajczak also says an additional increased spike in autism occurred in 1995 when chicken pox vaccine was grown in human fetal tissue.”

It is important to realize that, while I believe vaccines are an important contributor to autism, they clearly aren’t the only factor. In her pilgrimage through the literature, Ratajckak cites evidence for the following potential causes and factors contributing to today’s autism epidemic. (For details on any of these, please refer to her original article.)


Dr. Mercola  further reports the following factors connected to autism:


  1. Mitochondrial disease and dysfunction
  2. Immunosuppression related to pregnancy, prenatal development, and increased susceptibility to infection, possibly due to a defective blood-brain barrier
  3. Imbalance of neural systems—between excitation and inhibition in key neural systems, including the cerebral cortex 
  4. Environmental toxins such as xenobiotics, phthalates, PCBs, organophosphate pesticides, herbicides, perchlorates, trihalomethanes, aluminum and mercury 
  5. Medications used by a woman in pregnancy can alter brain development of her unborn child (evidence exists for Misoprostol, valproic acid, acetaminophen, and of course thalidomide)  
  6. Abnormal regulation of brain growth  
  7. Excessively high fetal testosterone levels
  8. Viruses such as measles, herpes simplex virus, varicella, cytomegalovirus and Stealth virus, which can cause encephalitis that can later result in autism; some of these viruses can persist in your body by hiding inside monocytes, inducing chronic inflammation 

Recently, there has been an abundance of evidence to support this multifactorial aspect of Autism. An article in the Journal of Immunotoxicology reported that it is the interaction of the underlying predisposing factors with the environment that triggers disease manifestations.

Autism, a member of the pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), has been increasing dramatically since its description by Leo Kanner in 1943. First estimated to occur in 4 to 5 per 10,000 children, the incidence of autism is now 1 per 110 in the United States, and 1 per 64 in the United Kingdom, with similar incidences throughout the world. Searching information from 1943 to the present in PubMed and Ovid Medline databases, this review summarizes results that correlate the timing of changes in incidence with environmental changes. Autism could result from more than one cause, with different manifestations in different individuals that share common symptoms.

Documented causes of autism include genetic mutations and/or deletions, viral infections, and encephalitis following vaccination. Therefore, autism is the result of genetic defects and/or inflammation of the brain. The inflammation could be caused by a defective placenta, immature blood-brain barrier, the immune response of the mother to infection while pregnant, a premature birth, encephalitis in the child after birth, or a toxic environment.


Neruoinflammation is another hot topic in autism. Dr. Baylock is an expert in this field, and an article in Psychiatry verified this:

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder of early onset that is highly variable in its clinical presentation. Although the causes of autism in most patients remain unknown, several lines of research support the view that both genetic and environmental factors influence the development of abnormal cortical circuitry that underlies autistic cognitive processes and behaviors. The role of the immune system in the development of autism is controversial. Several studies showing peripheral immune abnormalities support immune hypotheses, however until recently there have been no immune findings in the CNS. We recently demonstrated the presence of neuroglial and innate neuroimmune system activation in brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid of patients with autism, findings that support the view that neuroimmune abnormalities occur in the brain of autistic patients and may contribute to the diversity of the autistic phenotypes. The role of neuroglial activation and neuroinflammation are still uncertain but could be critical in maintaining, if not also in initiating, some of the CNS abnormalities present in autism. A better understanding of the role of neuroinflammation in the pathogenesis of autism may have important clinical and therapeutic implications.

But, once again, what’s the cause of the inflammation? Why is the immune system so unregulated? Environmental, genetic polyphormisms in detoxification, diet? ……Malnutrition?


One study reported that mothers of autistic children were less likely to have taken prenatal vitamins and that various nutrient deficiencies could be a factor.

Conclusions: Periconceptional use of prenatal vitamins may reduce the risk of having children with autism, especially for genetically susceptible mothers and children. Replication and mechanistic investigations are warranted.

Here we go again, but why? Is it really just as easy as a prenatal vitamin, and whoosh,  no autism? I believe it’s much more complicated than this, it’s multifactorial and all factors have to be addressed to fully heal. It’s about individualizing medicine and empowering the patient in their unique way.


The good news is that we have the power! J We can make choices in diet, lifestyle, and friendship, that feed our souls and more our genes to positively express health rather than unregulated disease. Although preventative medicine isn’t sexy or easy, it is becoming vital. I’d hate to see more people and children suffer from diseases that not only affect our hearts but also increase our risk of mortality by creating more isolation.

The answer can’t be solved by suppressing symptoms with drugs or the next magic supplement? The answer is found in individualizing treatment for the individual and having doctors address relationships and social connection as importantly as cholesterol numbers and genetic polymorphisms.

It’s something scientists and physicians may not want to admit: the placebo effect and confidence in the physician may be more important than what is actually prescribed in treatment.  I always tell my patients that it’s a combination of my commitment, knowledge of biochemistry, and clinical support with their belief and follow through, along with their own body’s innate healing power, which will complete the picture of our success working together. (On a side note, I am graced and blessed with such wonderful team players in my patients!)

Follow this link to read about the current updates in my clinic, the upcoming forum in October, and to share your comments, and much more!


Kenneth D. Kochanek, M.A.; Jiaquan Xu, M.D.; Sherry L. Murphy, B.S.; Arialdi M. Miniño M.P.H.; and Hsiang-Ching Kung, Ph.D., Division of Vital Statistics. National Vital Statistics Reports. Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2009. Center for Disease Control. 59(4). March 16, 2011/

Dean Ornish , MD. Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy. Harper Collins. New York:NY. 1998.

Erica C. Leifheit-Limson, et al. The Role of Social Support in Health Status and Depressive Symptoms After Acute Myocardial Infarction: Evidence for a Stronger Relationship Among Women. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 2010; 3: 143-150 Accessed August 15, 2011.

Bert N. Uchino. Understanding the Links Between Social Support and Physical Health: A Life-Span Perspective With Emphasis on the Separability of Perceived and Received Support (Abstract). Perspectives on Psychological Science May 2009 vol. 4 no. 3 236-255. Accessed August 15, 2011.

Neil Z Miller and Gary S Goldman. Infant mortality rates regressed against number of vaccine doses routinely given: Is there a biochemical or synergistic toxicity? Human and Experimental Toxicology. May 2011: 000(00) 1–9. Accessed online through SAGE on August 13, 2011.

Helen V. Ratajczak. Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes—A review. Journal of Immunotoxicology, 2011; 8(1): 68–79. Informa Healthcare. Accessed August 13, 2011.

Mercola, J. How to Help Eliminate the Hidden Enemy that Triggers Autism. Mercola. Com. August 13, 2011.

 CARLOS A. PARDO. DIANA L. VARGAS. & ANDREW W. ZIMMERMAN. Immunity, neuroglia and neuroinflammation in autism. Psychiatry. December 2005; 17(6): 485–495 Accessed August 13, 2011.

Rebecca J. Schmidt,et al.  Prenatal Vitamins, One-carbon Metabolism Gene Variants,and Risk for Autism. Epidemiology.  2011;22: 476–485.