Researchers from Ohio State University say the healing power of social support may be a mutual thing. Their study shows an association between indicators of positive social relationships and lower levels of inflammation. They say that leaning on your friends and family may boost your health only if you're willing to return the favor.

“It may be that when people believe they can give more support to friends and family, these relationships are especially rewarding and stress-relieving, which reduces inflammation,” says Dr. Baldwin Way, an OSU psychologist involved in the study.

Their preliminary evidence suggests that the link between health and willingness to help others may be especially important for women.

For the study, the researchers sent questionnaires to more than 1,000 people between the ages of 34 and 84. The respondents answered questions about whether they were married, living with a partner, how often they contacted family and friends, and how often they attended social groups or went to activities. Plus, they noted how much they thought they could rely on friends and family if they needed help.

But lead author Tao Jiang says the most important part is that they also asked participants to rate how much they were available to support friends and family.

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About two years later, people in the study had blood tests, and those who said they were available to help others had lower levels of a substance called interleukin-6, which is a marker of inflammation.

The researchers say that the study only explored what people said they were willing to do, not what they actually did. But they also say results shed more light on the connection between relationships and our health.

The study is published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

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