Studies Link Love and Intimacy to Good
Bob Condor/Knight Ridder
In his Oscar-winning role in "Good Will
Hunting," Robin Williams provides a unique spin on love and
intimacy. He tells a young, less-experienced man (Matt Damon) that
loving someone is about accepting the quirks, the peculiar habits
that only lovers can share.
It is in this sharing of the most
authentic self - one not entirely apparent to anyone else in the
world - upon which relationships are built and fortified. Some of
the habits might be cute or humorous. In the movie, not
surprisingly, Williams recounts one uproarious example. Other
idiosyncrasies are decidedly serious or intense. These quirks are
to be cherished, he says.
While Hollywood love stories may teach
us a few lessons, perhaps more revealing is the attention paid to
such emotional currents by a growing number of doctors and
researchers. No scientist has yet distilled romance into a formula,
but several formidable studies link love and intimacy to improved
To their credit, the researchers are
not about to stop at romance when determining the positive effects
of intimacy on health. The results are worth taking to
- Researchers at Case Western Reserve
University in Cleveland asked a simple question of 10,000 married
men with no history of chest pains (angina): "Does your wife show
you her love?" Those men answering yes were found to experience
significantly less angina in the next five years than husbands
responding no - despite such negative indicators as elevated
cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or electrocardiogram
- Yale scientists surveyed 119 men and
40 women before they submitted to angiography tests. Those who
reported feeling most loved and supported were the same subjects
found to have markedly less blockage in the arteries. The factor of
feeling loved and supported - or unloved and unsupported - was
independent of any effects of diet, smoking, exercise, family
history or other risk predictor.
- In 1952, Harvard doctors selected 126
healthy male students at random. The students were asked to
describe the nature of their relationships with their parents. In
1987, medical records were obtained for the subjects, who were in
their 50s. More than 90 percent of the men who didn't perceive warm
relationships with their mothers had been diagnosed with serious
illnesses such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, ulcers and
alcoholism, compared with 45 percent of men who cited loving
relationships with their mothers. For fathers, the respective
numbers were 82 and 50 percent.
These research studies and several
dozen more can be found in a new book, "Love and Survival"
(HarperCollins) by Dr. Dean Ornish, of the famed low-low-fat diet
for reversing heart disease. Though he still strictly recommends
heart patients eat no more than 10 percent of their daily calories
in the form of fat, Ornish is liberal in his praise for what can't
be found on any menu.
"The diet can play a significant role,"
he said. "But nothing is more powerful than love and
Awareness of loneliness or social
isolation is the first step in healing, he said.
With a number of best-selling books to
his credit, Ornish is well-positioned to raise consciousness about
the healing qualities of love and intimacy. And other researchers
seem to welcome his input and influence.
"Americans need to hear this message,"
said Dr. Redford Williams, director of behavioral medicine at Duke
University in Durham, N.C. "We don't have actual data bases, but my
opinion is at least as many people die from social isolation as
smoking and maybe twice as much as deaths caused by bad dietary