Can Having Social Connections Improve Physical Health?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

It’s a known fact that people who are lonely and socially isolated tend to have more problems with their mental health, but is it possible that connecting yourself to others socially can actually improve your physical health, as well. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss a recent study that provides a surprising answer.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warriors Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD and addictions.

Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warriors Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we transformed lives for three decades using brain spect imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit Amen Clinics dot com.

Tana Amen: The Brain Warriors Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit Brain MD Health dot com. Welcome to the Brain Warriors Way podcast and stay tuned for a special code for a discount to Amen Clinics for a full evaluation as well as any of our supplements at Brain MD Health dot com. Welcome back, we have something so interesting to talk about today. There's a really cool study we're going to start with. I've been wanting to discuss chronic pain because we've been getting so many questions but first let's talk about this, there is this town that has found a social cure for illness. Right, this is crazy but it's really cool. This is in England. This was written in the Guardian. Let's read this.

"When isolated people who have health problems are supported by community groups and volunteers, the number of emergency admissions to hospitals falls spectacularly. While across the whole of Somerset emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% during the three years of the study, in Frome, they fell by 17%." In one town, they fell by 17%. A famous paper published in PLR's Medicine in 2010 reviewed 148 studies involving 300,000 people and discovered that those with strong social relationships had 50% lower chance of death across average study period, which was 7.5 years than those with weak connections. The magnitude of the effect of this paper reports is comparable with quitting smoking.

Dr Daniel Amen: Being connected is critically important. This town actually had a very forward thinking mayor. They went okay, we can't accept the increased cost and the increased burden on individuals in society who are sick so what can we do. What they did is they began to surround people who were sick with services. They would help them whether it's their money they needed help with but they would also help them be more connected to other people in their community. It in many ways is really a social cure.

Tana Amen: We certainly have experienced this even in our own family.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well one of the things that I thought was really interesting, I wrote does pro inflammatory diet make us lonely and sick. Another sort of part of the study, it showed that when you have high inflammation in your body and we talked about that from the standard American diet, from having low omega three fatty acids, from having a leaky gut, that when you have inflammation in your body, which you can test with a blood test called c reactive protein or the omega three index, inflammation one increases threat related brain sensitivity to negative social experiences. You're more sensitive to rejection. You're more sensitive to negative social feedback. You get your feelings hurt more often, which means you're then going to withdraw more from other people and so this crazy diet we're feeding people is actually increasing and if you mix that with gadgets, you're increasing sadness.

Tana Amen: There's another part to that, it's not part of this study but it's part of what we do and part of other studies we have discussed is that when people eat pro inflammatory diets they experience more chronic pain, their joints, their back, migraines, things like this. They will tend to isolate anyways. You isolate for many reasons when you have inflammation.

Dr Daniel Amen: They're more sensitive to rejection, they hurt more and there's another fascinating study about when you're socially rejected the pain centers in your brain actually go up. You hurt physically and so we're going to do another podcast soon on chronic pain. Partly, the people who suffer the most are also the people who are most socially isolated.

Tana Amen: I want to just discuss, we have talked a lot about now this family that we've been helping. It was when we first started helping this family and it's someone in our own family, it was not easy to sort of unravel the whole thing. It's one of those situations where it's like all of a sudden let's just say you're cooking and a grease fire breaks out. All of a sudden you've got a fire on the stove the fire catches the drapes then it jumps over someone else and all of a sudden you're looking and you're like where do I start cause there's all these emergencies you have to deal with, right. That's what it felt like for me, jumping in to try to help this.

It was like where do I start, where do I start unraveling first, right. It was overwhelming. When you're first starting something like that it feels really overwhelming to try to figure out where to begin, especially when there's children involved. We did that, we did similar to what this study talked about, we just started trying to figure out resources and wrapping services around the family. That's really what we did. Fortunately for us, I would still recommend that you try to work with this we know how to speak to certain people in certain positions like social services so social workers or CPS or DHS or whatever you want to say. We knew how to sort of communicate with them.

Dr Daniel Amen: CPS for people who don't know is Child Protective Services. DHS is Department of Health Services.

Tana Amen: Right, we know how to communicate with them. My suggestion would be learn how to communicate with them, speak their language, remember it's their game, right. It's their game, their toys, whatever. Learn how to communicate with them or find someone who does so that you're speaking the same language rather than fighting with them you want to be speaking their language.

Dr Daniel Amen: Right, rather than see them as the enemy.

Tana Amen: You do not want to see them as the enemy. You want to learn how to work with them.

Dr Daniel Amen: You have to learn how to work with them.

Tana Amen: It's hard because it's an emergency.

Dr Daniel Amen: Say you need to know the rules of the game that you're in. When I go to court if I'm testifying in court or someone had a scan, for example I know they're going to attack me. It's just part of the rules ...

Tana Amen: Part of the rules of the game.

Dr Daniel Amen: One side loves me and thinks I should win a Nobel Prize, which of course I should. The other side thinks I should be arrested and demonized and so on. If you know the rules of the situation you're in, you don't take it personally.

Tana Amen: Exactly, when I was in this situation everything just felt overwhelming and I tried to figure out where to start, you just step back for a minute, you make the list of all of the potential resources and then you make, what I did is sort of like make a list of like okay I can handle this this way, I can handle this this way. I sort of stepped back and looked at the whole thing and decided how I was going to handle it. Just like you said, I went I need to know the rules of the game. These are not my rules. It doesn't matter whether I think it's right or wrong, I just need to know how to play. I need to know how to communicate with these people.

Dr Daniel Amen: You're really good at this because you were an ICU nurse.

Tana Amen: Right, assess, breathing, circulation. You got all these emergencies figured out.

Dr Daniel Amen: When you're in a difficult situation, you have to take care of the immediate needs first, right is there safety, if there food, is there, can we get the basic needs covered. Then it's connecting them to groups. We stayed connected, that was really helpful. Her mom really came in and that was a surprise but I think it's one of the most important parts of it.

Tana Amen: We got the troops to rally.

Dr Daniel Amen: Although we needed her mother to take our brain health assessment free, online, you can go to brain health assessment dot com. We'll tell you what brain type you have and then recommend what are the interventions, what are the supplements for that type. She was a three, which is worried, rigid, inflexible, things don't go her way she gets really upset. There were lots of explosions we're like no we have to fix that. You have to understand the biology of it.

Tana Amen: Which was obviously part of the whole history and dynamics. The point being, we were able to step back and go okay, how do we wrap these services around for these people and then when Child Protected Services realized these people actually want to work with us, guess what, they started being willing to help us with those resources.

Dr Daniel Amen: They were much more helpful.

Tana Amen: They were much more helpful. Initially there was not much help but that's because they're used to dealing with people fighting with them all day, every day. When all of a sudden they realize okay, they're going to work with us, suddenly they've got someone that they can work with they're going to help you more.

Dr Daniel Amen: If we just think about this social cure, it was you connecting and me connecting with your sister.

Tana Amen: Yeah, but you and I were a little bit like good cop, bad cop for sure. There was a check and balance.

Dr Daniel Amen: That's how we always are.

Tana Amen: There was a little bit of a check and balance there for sure.

Dr Daniel Amen: We were connected, right. We were not going to become disconnected. We were connected, we were connected with the kids that Tamara got involved in groups and that was a connection. She got involved with work.

Tana Amen: She did everything we told her to do.

Dr Daniel Amen: That was really a connection. I wanted us to think about what is really the social cure. The social cure is if you're lonely, if you're depressed, if you have really bad thoughts, it's really important to be connected with other people. Now the quality of the people really does matter obviously.

Tana Amen: She didn't want to go. I know when you're socially isolated it's really hard to take that first step, really hard. I would have to be on the phone sometimes with her for an hour, hour and a half just getting her to get up and go out because she wasn't close at the time. Now we've got her close. Then finally there were some days where I'm like get up, get your clothes on and get your blankety, blank blank out of the house. It's not an option.

Dr Daniel Amen: What is blankety blank?

Tana Amen: Yeah, I can't say that. There were days where it's like the bad cop comes out because you have to make it happen. Once she would go, every time it was the same thing I'm so glad I went. I wanted to strangle her because if you knew what it took for me to get her to go it was a big deal. We get it. It's hard. You need some accountability, someone pushing you a little bit to get you to go because it's so important that you have that support, accountability, those social services wrapped around you.

Dr Daniel Amen: If you're feeling sick, it's so important that you get the help you need but be connected to your church, to your community, volunteering, all of those things are absolutely essential to getting and staying well when we did the Daniel plan, a big program at Saddleback church, it's now done in thousands of churches around the world, what we learned is people got better together or they get sick together. It's based on these five pillars, faith, why do you care, food, fitness, focus, brain health and friends. People get better together, they get sick together. People in our program who actually did it with someone else lost twice the amount of weight than other people. We want to be part of your community, that's why we do this podcast.

That's why both Tana and I are on Facebook. We certainly have a huge community at Amen Clinics. We want to provide you with the information you need and our hope is, part of the Brain Warriors Way is you live the Brain Warriors Way and then you teach somebody else to live it because when you give it away it's actually you're creating your own support group, making it more likely you'll stay on the program forever. Stay with us. Use the code podcast ten to get a ten percent discount on a full evaluation at Amen Clinics dot com or on our supplements at Brain MD Health dot com. Thank you for listening to the Brain Warriors Way podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of the Brain Warriors Way and the Brain Warriors Way cookbook we give away every month.