Is ‘love’ the missing health link in the Hispanic Paradox?

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    Love is a powerful thing.

    Does love hold the answer to the Hispanic Paradox? (Shutterstock)

    The Hispanic Paradox is the phrase used to describe the longer lifespan of Hispanics in the United States, despite high rates of chronic disease It has baffled researchers and medical professionals for years. On average, Hispanics live 2 and 1/2 years longer than non-Hispanic whites, and the effect is even more pronounced among recent immigrants, though present in acculturated Hispanics as well.

    There have been numerous studies exploring the Hispanic Paradox, and even more research projects confirming it’s existence in relation to various diseases. Most recently, experts investigating thyroid cancer found Hispanic patients were more likely than others to be diagnosed at advanced stages of the disease, yet still lived longer than other ethnic and racial groups in the research.

    But what is responsible for the Hispanic Paradox?

    Experts haven’t been able to pinpoint a single cause, though many theories exist as to why such a health disparity exists. Some experts believe the longevity seen among Hispanics has to do with physical and dietary habits from home countries, especially since the Hispanic Paradox decreases for Hispanics who have lived in the United States for a significant amount of time. Others, however, believe there might be something else at work–love.

    Love and the Hispanic Paradox

    When examining the relationship of love to the Hispanic Paradox, experts are looking at the complex network of social and family ties so valued within the Hispanic community. While there is no concrete evidence those bonds are what is at the core of the mysterious mortality rates among Hispanics, experts suspect there is a probable link.

    “It could be,” Dr. Kyriakos Markides told the Dallas News when asked if love could be the missing link in solving the Paradox. “But we don’t have the data to say that convincingly.”

    Markides, a professor of aging studies at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, is credited with creation of the phrase “Hispanic Paradox” in 1986 while conducting research in the Southwest.

    “It’s been many years since we discovered this, and people still haven’t figured it out. I don’t think there’s any one factor to explain it,” he says. “There are crumbs in the literature, and we’re sort of piecing the crumbs together.”

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    The Importance of Relationships and the Paradox

    Markides is not the only expert to believe the relationships between Hispanic families and friends are an important part in the Hispanic Paradox. John Ruiz, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of North Texas, Department of Psychology, told Saludify in 2013 there may be underlying medical reasons Hispanics live longer than other groups, but the most visible factor is that of culture and beliefs.

    “Although the evidence is not yet in, there is speculation that factors that promote close social relationships may be important,” explained Ruiz in an earlier interview. “For example, Hispanic cultural values such as simpatia (importance of displaying kindness and maintaining interpersonal harmony), familismo (importance of keeping warm family relationships), and personalismo (valuing and building warm relationships) may help to build strong social support itself, [which] is associated with better health and lower mortality risk.”

    Ultimately, experts argue that no matter what theory you examine to explain the Hispanic Paradox, it always comes back to the premise of love. For example, one reason the  Hispanic Paradox may exist is due to what is called the “salmon-bias” hypothesis. This theory indicates Hispanics–and immigrants in general–return to their home country when they become ill, and therefore the mortality statistics in the United States are skewed.

    Assuming that theory has some validity, why do those immigrants return home? Experts agree it is most likely to be closer to family and the culture patients are comfortable with–love.

    Family bonds are important.

    Family connections and bonding may ultimately be what powers the Hispanic Paradox. (Shutterstock)

    “The first thing you think of when you think of Hispanics is that we’re a collectivistic culture,”  Ruiz, told the Dallas News. “The importance of family is more pronounced among Hispanics than in individualistic societies.”

    Ruiz indicated there are a number of studies on chronic illness that show the importance of social interaction for healing and disease prevention. An example of that can be seen in studies of seniors; older individuals who feel lonely or isolated experience longer healing times and are at an increased risk for depression. Findings along these lines are consistent, stated Ruiz, for most studies looking at the relationship between social interaction and disease.

    But Hispanics certainly aren’t the only culture that enjoys close relationship ties, and this fact actually supports the idea that love can help explain the Hispanic Paradox. Many other family-centric cultures also experience longer mortality rates compared to non-Hispanic whites in the United States, and the disparity is becoming evident to the point where some experts suggest a more appropriate phrase moving forward should be the “Immigrant Paradox.”

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