Relationships are the fundamental building blocks that help shape life and give it meaning. But is it possible that relationships can do more than just satisfy mental well-being?

Martinsburg native Lauren M. Penwell, a doctoral student in the clinical psychology program at West Virginia University, explored the link between social support and chronic illness in a literature review. The review, co-written by WVU Professor Kevin T. Larkin, was published in the December 2009 issue of “Health Psychology Review.”

In the paper, titled “Social support and risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer: a qualitative review examining the role of inflammatory processes,” Penwell examined the correlation of social support systems on inflammation in cardiovascular disease and cancer.

After quantifying the results of 12 studies, she found that some of the studies did find a link between inflammation and patient’s support systems. However, Penwell notes that the findings are not concrete and though the results are optimistic, there is a need for more research to be conducted to clear up the ambiguity of the proposed link.

“As a result, we can see where we are now and where we need to go. It is important to know that we can maintain these relationships to help keep us healthy,” Penwell said.

It has long been speculated that social support systems can have an affect on a person’s physical well-being. Previous research has examined this possibility and found a vague link concerning the strength of a person’s support system and their ability to fight off illness. Penwell’s review is the most recent literature quantifying research on the topic.

In Penwell’s own opinion, social support plays a major role in getting over illness because it helps buffer stress which can help a patient feel better overall; thus helping their body fight off disease more efficiently.

Penwell decided to write a literature review on the possible linkage because, not only was she interested in the possible prospect of what social support can do for a patient physically, but also because there was a noticeable gap in the research.



CONTACT: Lauren Penwell, Department of Psychology