The Body

Friendships Boost A Woman’s Health

A landmark study by the University of Michigan has identified a likely reason why feeling emotionally close to a friend works wonders on a woman’s mood — and even boosts her health. Friendships, they say, increase the women’s hormone progesterone, which enhances a sense of well-being while reducing anxiety and stress. In the study, researchers examined the link between interpersonal closeness and salivary progesterone in 160 female college students before randomly assigning the students to partners and asking them to perform either a task designed to elicit feelings or emotional closeness, or one that was emotionally neutral. After the task, the women played a computerized, cooperative card game with their partners and then had their progesterone and cortisol (a stress hormone) measured. The progesterone levels of women who had engaged in the emotionally neutral tasks tended to decline, while the progesterone levels of women engaged in the task designed to elicit closeness either remained the same or increased. Progesterone, like oxytocin, the researchers concluded, may be a likely part of the neuroendocrine basis of social bonding in humans. Unlike oxytocin, progesterone can be measured by a simple saliva test. (University of Michigan, June 2009)