Should you marry a passionate lover or your best friend? Here’s what science says.

Married people even do better during the so-called middle-age slump.

We've known for a long time that married people experience better physical and mental health, just so long as they're happily married. Last year, a study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that marriage may have stress relieving properties, as those ensconced in marital bliss carry less of the stress hormone cortisol in their bloodstream, than singles or the divorced.

Chronically elevated levels of cortisol can lead to low-level inflammation throughout the body, which is a contributing factor to some of the most dreadful conditions, including diabetes, dementia, and heart disease.


There are lots of other advantages to being hitched, such as a lower risk of depression, heart attack, or stroke. The contently married also have a higher likelihood of living longer, of enjoying better financial health, and surviving cancer, should they be diagnosed. Surprisingly, men actually benefit more from a healthy marriage than women. Now, another study finds that for both sexes, those who consider their spouse their best friend experience even greater benefits. The results were published in the Journal of Happiness Studies in 2017.

Being married provides a number of physical and mental health benefits. Credit: Getty Images.


Though previous research illustrated the benefits of a good marriage, there's been much debate about why this is. Is it that marriage is so good for us, or that happier people are more likely to get married? Another issue, some previous studies found that after an initial bump, satisfaction scores for married couples actually fell to pre-marriage levels.

Here, researchers from Vancouver School of Economics in Canada decided to investigate. They wanted to know if there was a bump in well-being and how long it lasted. They also looked into what effect if any, friendship had on marriage.

Study authors Shawn Grover and John Helliwell studied data-sets collected from two large-scale U.K. surveys, the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and the Annual Population Survey. With the former, they looked at the years between 1991 and 2009, and the latter 2011 to 2013. The BHPS had 30,000 participants, and the Annual Population Survey 328,000. The average age to get married was around 30 for a man and 28 for a woman.

Married couples did enjoy greater life satisfaction, researchers found, higher than singles, both among the divorced and never married. But is it short-lived? "Even after years the married are still more satisfied," Helliwell said. "This suggests a causal effect at all stages of the marriage, from pre-nuptial bliss to marriages of long-duration." Cohabitating couples showed similar benefits.

A happy marriage increased life satisfaction for the entire duration of the couple's time together, researchers found. Credit: Getty Images.

One particularly sunny find was that the increase in satisfaction was sustained through middle-age, a period when happiness dips significantly, only to rise again in retirement. Helliwell said, "Marriage may help ease the causes of a mid-life dip in life satisfaction and the benefits of marriage are unlikely to be short-lived."

Researchers also wanted to know what role friendship played. Previous studies found that having friends is essential to happiness. Having friends who share our beliefs, known as “super-friends," are even more crucial. "The well-being benefits of marriage are much greater for those who also regard their spouse as their best friend," Helliwell said. “These benefits are on average about twice as large for people whose spouse is also their best friend."

Around half of all married respondents said their spouse was their best friend. Surprisingly, this particular boost was greater for women than men. One limitation is that the findings can only be applied to Western countries.

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'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
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Videos
  • A huge segment of America's population — the Baby Boom generation — is aging and will live longer than any American generation in history.
  • The story we read about in the news? Their drain on social services like Social Security and Medicare.
  • But increased longevity is a cause for celebration, says Ashton Applewhite, not doom and gloom.


After death, you’re aware that you’ve died, say scientists

Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.

Credit: Petr Kratochvil. PublicDomainPictures.net.
Surprising Science

Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.