Does Social Status Affect Men’s Health?

Are you climbing the corporate ladder, struggling to maintain your social status, and experiencing lots of stress as a result? A new study in monkeys suggests a link between improvement in social status and changes in gene expression involved in immune response, suggesting a change in social status may affect your health.

It’s well accepted that stress has an impact on both physical and emotional health. Much research has linked stress levels with conditions ranging from gastrointestinal disorders to depression, heart disease, stroke, hair loss, and erectile dysfunction.

Yoav Gilad, PhD, associate professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago Biological Sciences, and his team studied social ranking and stress among a population of 49 captive female rhesus macaques of different social rank. They discovered that when a female monkey’s social rank improved, her gene expression changed within a few weeks, which suggests social influences or environment can alter genes. How can that be true?

According to Jennifer Tung, the postdoctoral researcher who led the study, “There’s a spooky side to this kind of research, in that an individual’s social rank is partially determining health status.” Gilad also noted that the study results indicate “Whatever it is that causes stress through social environment, you might be able to fix.”


Tung J et al. Social environment is associated with gene regulatory variation in the rhesus macaque immune system, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States 2012 Apr 9

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