Friendships can prolong and enhance our quality of life; for more reasons than you think. For one, studies show that the bond between humans can be effective medicine to help heal a broken heart – literally. Researchers discovered that recovery from heart surgery is improved when social support networks are strong and utilized. Some experts proclaim that in addition to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, not having friends should actually be considered a risk factor for heart attacks among cardiac patients. Friendship has also been linked to reduced stress levels, better immune function and fewer disabilities associated with advanced age.

We know that recovery from substance abuse and addiction fails miserably without community as well. Patients that participate in support groups for weight loss, chemical dependency and eating disorders at the Pennington Institute form lasting friendships that they report have provided them with the encouragement to finally break free from addictive behaviors and depression.

There are a number of questions that come to the mind of the holistic health professional that must be addressed. How is it that friendships can so profoundly influence physical health and emotional wellbeing? Do we have to spend time with friends in person or are telephone conversations enough to enjoy the health benefits? Have we been hard-wired to favorably respond to social interaction just as we thrive in climates with adequate sunshine and clean air? Many of the answers come from clinical studies from around the world.

Chemical and hormonal influences
We know that the isolation of infants leads to depression, learning disabilities and stunted growth. Scientists believe that humans respond to touch and social interaction with a release of a variety of hormones and brain chemicals that promote health. A recent UCLA study purports that in addition to cortisol, women release oxytocin in response to stress. Besides stimulating labor in pregnant females, oxytocin is also believed to be the hormone that causes us to ‘tend and befriend’, resulting in a sense of calm. This suggests that when we re-hash a fight with our boyfriend with a close friend, our sense of wellbeing comes not only from the act of venting but from the chemicals we release as a result of the human interaction.

Friendships clearly help to lower our perception and experience of stress. Communicating with a friend about problems within a marriage or work relationship is critical to most people who work to maintain close friendships for decades despite distance. The stress reducing benefits are well worth the effort experts say. Friends can often offer perspective that we lack when we’re fuming with rage and frustration. The insight gained from a friendly discourse can decrease our experience of stress which in turn reduces the surge of stress hormones released which has far reaching impact on our health. Decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, for instance, are associated with better immune function which is critical to keeping infections at bay. When cortisol levels are constantly high, we have an increased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and it accelerates the aging process.

Emotional Influences – Even at a Distance
Friendships allow us to feel wanted, appreciated and supported. These qualities help to ease symptoms of depression and provide hope. Understanding that recovery from illness or surgery requires a strong will explains how feeling the support and desire for more life adventures with close friends will stimulate a patient to strive for a speedy and complete recovery. Those friends need not be in the same room or even the same state for the health benefits to be realized. Just knowing that you have a close confidante with whom you can communicate is beneficial and provides emotional and physical benefits.

One report finds that the mere existence of social relationships has a linear relation to quality of life. Also, results of the MONICA Project (Monitoring of trends and determinants of cardiovascular diseases) found that social relationships induced lower mortality rates independent of stress and social strains. Of note: the type of support given is also not as important as just being on the ‘friend list’ since the actual resources that friends provide only offer stress-buffering effects.

To Give Is Better Than To Receive
But don’t neglect to offer support to friends in need. Though we enjoy the boost in health and emotional stability from friends lending us support, a 5-year study of older married adults from the Institute for Social Research found that death from illness was significantly reduced for people who reported providing emotional support to friends, relatives, neighbors and spouses. So, when friends call, answer! You may prolong your life. This concept goes along with research from psychologists who demonstrated that performing random acts of kindness resulted in increased life satisfaction and lower levels of depression. Some say that the mental health benefits are mediated via the ‘feel good’ hormone serotonin. By looking at the breakdown products of serotonin in urine samples of study participants, researchers discovered that people who performed and witnessed random acts of kindness had higher levels of serotonin.

In summary, the data and our own clinical intuition suggest that we should highly recommend and foster the ability to maintain existing and create new friendships to prevent health complications and improve quality of life.

We invite you to refer your recovering patients to our website for details on a study we are conducting to determine whether ‘cyber friendships’ can affect health and emotional status and prevent relapse. Or you may email Dr. Pennington at

Author's Bio: 

Andrea Pennington, M.D., C.Ac.
Dr. Andrea Pennington is a respected Integrative Medicine physician, acupuncturist and author. She is the President of the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals and Pennington Empowerment Media. Dr. Andrea is also a certified Age Management Physician affiliate of the Cenegenics Medical Institute. Her treatment style is unique and blends traditional medicine with acupuncture, fitness instruction, nutritional consultation, spiritual direction and empowerment coaching.

Dr. Andrea has a passion for total wellness which inspires all with whom she comes into contact. Featured twice on the Oprah Winfrey Show she is recognized as a medical and wellness expert who teaches how to live with increased vitality and purpose. Dr. Andrea also considers her music to be as vital as her medical practice in helping to heal and transform people.

Dr. Andrea, also a respected and sought-after TV personality, served as the Medical Director and Spokesperson for Discovery Health Channel and Discovery Health Online and has been seen on CNN, Fox News, the Today Show, the Early Show – CBS, and many more national television programs.

Dr. Pennington’s first book, The Pennington Plan, is based on a 5-step motivational plan for achieving optimal health and vitality. It has helped thousands of people embrace better overall health and lose weight.

Dr. Andrea received her doctor of medicine from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, where she graduated with honors. She trained in Pediatrics at Georgetown University Hospital, Age Management Medicine at the Cenegenics Medical Institute in Las Vegas, Nevada and received acupuncture instruction from the Helms Medical Institute at UCLA and the Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, New York. Dr. Andrea also completed the Authentic Happiness Coaching Program with Dr. Martin Seligman.

Fluent in French and Spanish, Dr. Andrea is accessible to people of all walks of life, all ethnicities and educational levels. Dr. Andrea regularly partners with non-profit and charitable organizations to spread the message of health empowerment as part of her commitment to sharing her resources with the community.

For her significant contributions to the community and as a testament to her tireless devotion to today’s youth, Dr. Andrea was recognized as a local hero in Washington, DC by Heroes for Hope. A documentary film was made about her and presented as part of the Young Filmmakers Program.

See Dr. Andrea in action by visiting these links:

On Camera Clip Reel and Pregnancy Videos:

On Oprah:

Biography and Documentary on LIME TV:
Baby/Pregnancy related:

On Fox News:

On CBS News:

On Discovery Health Online:

Andrea Pennington, M.D., C.Ac.
Media Appearances & Speaking Engagements

Oprah Winfrey Show Guest expert on diabetes and heart disease Harpo Productions
Oprah Winfrey Show Guest expert on disease preventing nutrition Harpo Productions
The Today Show How Hobbies Improve Your Health NBC Universal
The Today Show Hurried Woman Syndrome NBC Universal
Montel Williams Show Anorexia in America CBS
The Early Show 5 Steps to Total Wellness – The Pennington Plan CBS
Jane Pauley Show Guest expert on new treatments for eating disorders NBC Universal
CNN Daybreak Medical correspondent on acupuncture & obesity CNN
CNN Daybreak Medical correspondent on cancer prevention tips CNN
CNN Daybreak Medical correspondent childhood obesity prevention CNN
Amazing Baby Videos Host / Medical consultant Discovery Health Channel
Health Newsbreaks Anchor Discovery Health Channel
Morning Show with Mike & Juliet Over 30 and Single in America Fox
Living it Up! With Ali & Jack Dealing with diabetes Kingworld
Living it Up! With Ali & Jack Exploring alternative medicine Kingworld
The John Walsh Show Guest expert on prescription drug addiction NBC
Swimsuit Slimdown Nutrition and medical expert Travel Channel
DaySide w/ Linda Vester Guest expert on addiction and obesity Fox News Channel
Satellite Media Tour Spokesperson for Kellogg’s Healthy Heart Initiative Syndicated national news
Satellite Media Tour Spokesperson for Kellogg’s 2-Week Fiber Challenge Syndicated national news
Satellite Media Tour Medical expert on cold and flu prevention Syndicated national news
Parent Sense Guest expert on children’s nutrition PBS / Dr. Spock Co.
The Ananda Lewis Show Guest expert on precocious puberty Kingworld
The Ananda Lewis Show Guest expert on healthy body image in girls Kingworld
The Ananda Lewis Show Guest expert on underage drinking Kingworld
Mom’s Guide to Baby Gear Co-Host / Medical consultant Discovery Health Channel
Scene Smoking Host Discovery Health Channel
Serial Terror: Son of Sam Host Discovery Health Channel
New Year, New You! Guest expert on weight management News Channel 8 VA/DC/MD

Total Wellness Host & Interviewer of weekly 1 hour live show Sirius 114 – LIME Radio
The Holistic Approach Host and interviewer Clear Channel Radio
Empowerment & Wellness Wellness expert and advocate Take Five on XM Radio
New Year’s Solutions Assessing Readiness for Health Change WTOP Radio Washington
The Obesity Epidemic Guest expert on the cause and cure Bernie McCain Show/Radio1
Beach Safety Tips for a safe summer at the beach CBS / WTOP AM 750
Allergies How to recognize and treat allergies CBS / WTOP AM 750
Close to Home Guest expert on child sexual abuse The Consumer Man Show
Cohabitation Social study evaluation Discovery Channel Radio
Chubby Babies Proper nutrition for toddlers Discovery Channel Radio

- Continued -
Reclaim Your Life and Vitality Speaking of Women’s Health, Kansas City, Kansas
Embracing Total Wellness Essence Women Who Are Shaping the World
Women’s Empowerment Development Women’s Center, Pine Grove Hospital
5 Steps to Total Wellness Texas Governor’s Conference for Women
Avoiding Chronic Disease, Embracing Wellness Philadelphia Women’s Conference
‘Wholistic’ Approach to Lasting Success eWomen’s Network, Annual Conference
Utilizing the Media for Branding and Marketing International Assoc. of Eating Disorder Professionals
Reclaim Wellness! Achieving Vibrant Health and Living a Life of Purpose National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
Alternative Approaches to Treating Eating Disorders and Obesity International Assoc. of Eating Disorder Professionals
Integrative Medicine for Addictive Behaviors Cape Cod Symposium on Addiction
A Holistic Approach to Wellness National Professionals Network Leadership Summit
Heart Disease in Men of Color African American Men’s Health Summit, Wash., DC
Making Time for Wellness and Finding Balance in Life Ladies Day Getaway Cruise
Smoking Use in Television and Motion Pictures CDC and Writers Guild
Creating Balance for Heart Health Dimensions Health Solutions
Lunch and Learn Series: Obesity & Stress Management Discovery Communications
Women and Heart Disease NW Cardiovascular Symposium
The Obesity Epidemic Natl. Black Nurses Assoc.
A Holistic Approach to Success Discovery Channel Executive Leadership Conference
A Holistic Approach to Success Healthcare Business Women Association
Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an Overview US Govt. Printing Office
Women’s Health Issues and the Media Pfizer Roundtable & Journal
A Woman’s Heart is Different & Stress Reduction Solutions Women’s Heart Day
2000 – 2005 MCI Center, Wash., D.C.
How Hobbies Improve Health Health Magazine
2 Minute Stress Busters Health Magazine
Top 50 Beauty Tips Essence Magazine
How stress affects your skin Self Magazine
Motivation – How to Harness It! Real Simple Magazine
Executive Health Check Up Black Enterprise Magazine
Work & Wealth “How I did it” Essence Magazine
Spa treatments for acne Essence Magazine
The adventurous spirit Odyssey Couleur
5-Steps to a healthy weight NZETTA Magazine
Stress management solutions Lifetime Magazine
The media’s effect on patient behavior Tips on Managed Care