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Personality, Attitudes, Genes Lend Support To Your Well-being

Posted - Mar. 9, 2004 at 7:20 a.m.



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ORLANDO -- Caring friends or family can protect women's hearts and slow HIV progression in gay men, but some adults have an edge in getting that support: Those rich in social capital tend to get even richer, studies suggested over the weekend.

Personality, attitudes and genes help determine how much support adults receive, University of Utah psychologist Timothy Smith said at the American Psychosomatic Society meeting here. A summary of cutting-edge research shows:

* Optimistic people get more gestures of support than pessimists.

* And Grandma was right again: Honey beats vinegar. Hostile adults don't get as much support as those who are pleasant.

* Support is ''portable.'' People tend to report the same amount of support as they change locales. And it's their perception of support that most affects health, not the reality, Smith says.

* Genes matter. Identical twins who are adopted by separate families and reunited as adults have far more similar circles of support than do fraternal twins, who share only half of their genes.

Getting the kind of support you need is important, too, Smith says. ''It's very bad to want affirmation or emotional support and get advice instead.''

There's some evidence that ''invisible'' support, the kind that is hardly noticed by a recipient, helps more than grand gestures, perhaps because the helped person doesn't feel needy or less able. And there's new evidence that giving to others can extend life more than receiving.

People who feel supported take better care of themselves, but that alone doesn't account for all the health benefits found, Smith says. Support may lower both blood pressure and stress hormones, which helps the immune and cardiovascular systems.

In a new study of 84 HIV-positive men, those who had disclosed their HIV status to family and friends showed significantly slower disease progression over six months than men who hadn't disclosed their condition. The health benefit from telling was found to be related to the support they received as a result, says study leader Gail Ironson of the University of Miami.

''Maybe they take their meds more often because people know, or they have less stress,'' Ironson says. ''But those who disclose seem to have some sense it's going to help them, because they do get support, and that's what's affecting their health.''

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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