The closing month of 2016 was packed with exciting stories in integrative health and medical headlines. In the midst of many of them, the theme of the power of social connections caught my attention.
Recently, it was reported by NBC news and Medscape that one in six Americans are taking psychiatric drugs…long-term. This statistic was recently published in a review in JAMA Internal Medicine that evaluated data from the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey of patients aged 18 to 85 years. Medscape cited doctors concern for these findings related to the significant side effects of these medications. Further details of the study are as follows:
About twice as many women used psychiatric drugs (21.2%) than did men (11.9%; OR, 2.0). Psychiatric drug use was considered long-term by the majority of adults across all three drug classes, with 84.3% reporting having filled three or more prescriptions in 2013 or indicating the initiation of the drug in 2011 or earlier. (1)
What Are We Missing
Last year, I wrote about the insanity of a medical system that continues to “fight” a disease with decreasing efficacy. The idea that mood can simply be manipulated by a medication is ignoring the complexity of factors involved in mental health and is doomed to fail.
Many aren’t aware that there is more than one hypothesis of what causes depression. As reviewed in Medical Acupuncture, the most popular hypothesis is the monamine theory. This approach focuses on manipulating brain biochemistry through specific neurotransmitters due to the belief that a decrease in one or a few are causing mood imbalances alone. However, the impact of stress, nervous system signaling molecules, and the neural-immune connection (inflammation) also have evidence of being associated with depression and should be considered. (2)
Furthermore, it can be argued that even if one neurotransmitter needs to be balanced, there are more natural alternatives which show promising results. The authors of this review state:
Clearly, pharmacologic approaches are not appropriate, and given the evidence for serotonin’s role in the etiology and treatment of depression, nonpharmacologic methods of increasing serotonin are potential candidates to test for their ability to prevent depression.Another reason for pursuing nonpharmacologic methods of increasing serotonin arises from the increasing recognition that happiness and well-being are important, both as factors protecting against mental and physical disorders and in their own right.12–14
Nonpharmacologic methods of raising brain serotonin may not only improve mood and social functioning of healthy people — a worthwhile objective even without additional considerations — but would also make it possible to test the idea that increases in brain serotonin may help protect against the onset of various mental and physical disorders. Four strategies that are worth further investigation are discussed below.
The four strategies discussed were causing alterations in mood states, bright light, exercise, and diet. (3)
Your Doctor May Be Ignoring a Potent Factor to Your Mood Issue
Interesting, one of my favorite headlines in December was hidden in the list of releases in Science Daily, “Most doctors ignore one of the most potent ways to improve health.” The summary states:
Leveraging existing relationships with friends and family may be a more effective way to improve patients’ health and encourage new healthy habits and behaviors than increasing interactions with physicians or other clinicians. In a new perspective article, behavioral economists suggest a five-step ladder to effectively engineering social engagements that promote health and to test their acceptability and effectiveness.
This means that being around people, especially healthy ones, can make one accountable for healthier behaviors. This approach is summarized in this image from the New England Journal of Medicine: (4)
Many other studies and articles have supported that social relationships can boost both emotional and physical health. The Guardian reported on a recent study as follows:
Most human misery can be blamed on failed relationships and physical and mental illness rather than money problems and poverty, according to a landmark study by a team of researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE).
Eliminating depression and anxiety would reduce misery by 20% compared to just 5% if policymakers focused on eliminating poverty, the report found. (5)
Therefore, it appears that money really can’t buy happiness. However, happiness and mood can be contagious, at least in this adolescent study. The researchers stated that, “Having sufficient friends with healthy mood can halve the probability of developing, or double the probability of recovering from, depression over a 6–12-month period on an adolescent social network. Our results suggest that promotion of friendship between adolescents can reduce both incidence and prevalence of depression.” (6)
It appears that more attention to our connection to others is now a factor that can no longer be ignored for its health benefits. In fact, many feel it is one of the main factors linked to longevity in the Blue Zones.
Therefore, if you want to support your health for 2017, make sure a little “hang time” with your peeps is on your to-do list!
- In my Saratoga.com blog, I discuss “The World’s New Popular Past Time” and how social media impacts our moods. I explore some factors of “virtual connections” on our well-being while living in our “technological world” and how a “digital detox” may make for more positive moods.
- For more of the top stories of December 2016 in medicine, nutrition, and holistic health, as well as the highlights from 2016, click here.
- Due to the age of information overload, I may be cutting down in the amount of posts I do moving forward in 2017. This is in order to reach more people in other ways. I will continue my weekly e-blasts on health and essential oils for my oil subscribers and keep you posted.
- Catch me at the Rally on January 21st. More information here.
[…] satisfying live relationship in his recent blog on taking a “digital detox.” I also reviewed in my own blog some of the benefits of nurturing social connections in real […]