Friends Help You Heal Faster

All of you know how vital friendships and companions are to our own self-esteem. So it may not surprise you about the findings of a new study that found wounded animals without a companion don't heal as quickly as those that do.

Researchers looked at the effect social contact had on wound healing in stressed hamsters. Results showed that skin wounds healed nearly twice as fast in hamsters paired with a sibling. These animals also produced less of the stress hormone cortisol than unpaired hamsters. Experts say stress delays wound healing in humans and other animals, and social contact helps counteract that.

Scientists also treated a group of socially isolated hamsters with oxytocin, a hormone released during social contact and associated with social bonding in monogamous animals. Oxytocin treatment seemed to ameliorate the effects stress had on wound healing, as the treated animals healed about 25 percent faster than the untreated lone animals.

Then, researchers conducted a series of experiments to learn how social interaction affects health, and to better understand the mechanisms by which it does so. Female Siberian hamsters were housed with a sibling or isolated during the three-week study. All animals received minor skin wounds about the size of a sunflower seed on the backs of their necks. The researchers photographed and measured the wounds each day.

Hamsters were separated into four groups for one of the experiments: two sets of paired and unpaired groups. As soon as a single day after injury, the wounds on the socially isolated, stressed animals remained about 25 percent larger than the wounds of the other three groups, and stayed this way for about a week.

Animals aren't meant to be alone and neither should people. If there's no one to reach out to at the moment, that's as good a reason as any to tap into the healing energies prayer provides, either by spending a quiet moment away from others or dealing with your deepest concerns through journaling.

EurekAlert August 3, 2004

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