A healthy community

In the continuing search to support efforts to BE HEALTHY, we always give special honors to non-pharmacologic efforts.


Because pharmaceutical interventions are only suitable when non-pharmacologic efforts have been exhausted. Everybody knows that. Drugs can do the job, to a degree; but, there ain’t nothing like the real thing… baby.

This week we give a special thumbs up to a unique non-pharmacologic lifestyle measure and its truly amazing ability to prevent heart disease. It literally blows away the benefits of cholesterol-lowering drugs, advanced genetic testing or imaging studies, as well as perfecting your diet.


That’s right. Imagine if you came across a town of people in the civilized world, living normal lives, working hard, and eating a standard diet (think meatballs and sausage) but they were highly resistant to heart disease. What would you do? Well, this happened to a community doctor in Pennsylvania a few years back. He decided to team up with a nearby university medical center and study the heck out of them. The results were published relatively recently in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), one of the country’s largest and most respected medical journals.

The group was living in a community that had been settled some 40 years before the study. The community mostly worked in mines nearby and they worked hard. They ate meatballs and sausage cooked in lard, smoked cigars, and drank wine like there was no tomorrow. The rate of heart attacks in men over 65 was half the national average. In men under the age of 55 years, there was a complete absence of heart disease. In fact, death rates from all causes were 35% below the national average.

So what gives?

They had something there that most other communities don’t have. This thing was not some mineral found in the water or special sunlight exposure habits or an extra emphasis on good sleep or anything of the like.

The thing that stood out to researchers in this study, where the town lived longer and had strong hearts, where smoking, drinking, and bad food were not in short order was the social and emotional health of its inhabitants. This town had been formed by a group of Italian immigrants a couple of generations before the study. The town retained this ethnic origin. It was something of an enclave. After studying all the components the researchers theorized that the x-factor was the remarkably close-knit social pattern they observed there. Social life was cohesive and mutually supportive. There were strong family and community ties. The elderly were revered, not marginalized. Put simply, everyone belonged and knew it; and, that made their hearts happy. We need each other.

It’s good medicine to be understood and appreciated. It feels good to know someone gets you.

This describes what is being called the Roseto Effect named after this study of the inhabitants of Roseto, PA published in JAMA in 1964. I told you it was relatively recent.

Scientific fact, as human beings we are bio-psycho-social individuals. Every part of that definition matters. The mind and body cannot be separated. And if you want to know someone you better know their environment. It’s not just that our emotions have a close relationship with our physiology, it’s that our emotions are one and the same as our physiology. Our social-emotional life is far too often ignored by our modern Western medical system, much to our detriment.

Bottom Line

Our relationship with others affects our risk of heart disease. That’s a place where we can start working on prevention. Forgiveness, then, is like a daily aspirin, without the risk of gastritis. A dinner party is like a month of statins. Want to live longer? Join a book club.

A healthy community where each individual is recognized as a special and cherished member is good medicine. What do we do as individuals? All we have to do is contribute to making up that healthy community. We have our work cut out for us, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Something little is always the way to start. Helping someone feel appreciated just might be one of the biggest things we can do for each other.