Your Friends May Be the Death of You

courtesy makelessnoise/flickr Patients have frequently come to me saying that previous doctors have told them that their illness is "all in my head."

My response has always been, "Absolutely!"

Virtually all diseases -- from allergies to cancer to heart disease -- have a mental or emotional component. The only diseases which are free of this association are those which are directly traceable to inherited genetic malfunction. One of the core principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine is that all disorders manifest themselves both physically and emotionally, and the doctor who diagnoses or treats only the physical manifestations of an illness is failing his patient. The distinction between mind and body is a false one. They are merely different faces of the deeply intertwined functions of life.

Western medicine is slowly catching up to this 3,000-year-old concept, as a growing body of research demonstrates that what influences the emotions influences physical health. The most recent article to joint this corpus is this study, which shows that among primates, immune system functioning is closely tied to social rank. Female macaque monkeys lower on the social scale had lower-functioning immune systems; but most importantly, when the monkey moved up or down the social hierarchy, their immune system followed.

If you look at all of the research on illness and social environment, I don't believe it would be too much of a stretch to conclude that  changing one's friendships and social organizations can have a dramatic effect on health. But it goes beyond the old bromide "those who lie down with dogs are going to get fleas." In other words, it is not simply exposure to noxious organisms and toxins that will determine our health, but the entire social milieu in which we exist which determines our health.

So what does this mean to you and your health?

Take a look around you. Who are your friends? Is your social circle based on mutual respect? As is the case for many men, their peers and friends are also often their competitors in their games of pleasure, but winning and losing can be grounds for either contempt or camaraderie. Women similarly compete, sometimes in sports, but more traditionally through more subjective measurements than game scores or race times, and sometimes through surrogates such as their children. "Winning" and "losing" in this environment is amorphous at best.

Examine the formal social structures to which you belong. Is your church, synagogue or temple one in which the beauty of the person is celebrated? Or is personal esteem torn down in obeisance to a vengeful, demanding cosmos? Similarly, how respected do you feel by the other members of your book club, health club, or guild?

If, in any of these realms, you do not feel respected, it may be time to change venues. The respect others have for you not only influences your own self-esteem, but may be part of the cause of health problems you have been having.

To change your health, maybe you first need to change your friends.

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.