Social relationships and inflammatory markers: an analysis of Taiwan and the U.S

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Jun;74(12):1891-9. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.02.020. Epub 2012 Mar 16.


We evaluated the association between two aspects of social relationships and six inflammatory markers in Taiwan and the U.S. These two countries share similar levels of current life expectancy, but exhibit important differences in social structure. The data comprised population based samples from Taiwan (aged 53+; n=962) and the U.S. (aged 35-86; n=990) collected between 2003 and 2009. Circulating levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP), fibrinogen, and soluble forms of intercellular adhesion molecule 1, E-selectin, and IL-6 receptor (sIL-6R) were measured in fasting blood samples. A social integration score was based on marital status, contact with family and friends, church attendance, and other social participation. A perceived social support index was based on questions regarding the availability of care and support from family and friends. Linear regression models tested the association between these two measures and each inflammatory marker controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, obesity, medication use, and baseline health status. After adjusting for potential confounders, social integration had a significant but weak inverse association with CRP in Taiwan. Perceived social support was significant in two of 12 models, and the coefficient was positive (i.e., higher support was associated with higher CRP and sIL-6R in the U.S.). We found no evidence that the coefficients for social relationship measures varied by sex or age. Our results yielded limited evidence of a weak association between two dimensions of social relationships and six inflammatory markers in Taiwan and the U.S. Given that the literature suggests a strong link between social relationships and mortality, and that inflammation plays an important role in the leading causes of death, we had expected to find consistent and moderately strong associations between social relationships and inflammatory markers. The small effect sizes and lack of robustness across markers were surprising.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • E-Selectin / blood
  • Female
  • Fibrinogen / metabolism
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / blood*
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1 / blood
  • Interleukin-6 / blood
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Social Support*
  • Taiwan
  • United States


  • Biomarkers
  • E-Selectin
  • Interleukin-6
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1
  • Fibrinogen
  • C-Reactive Protein