Further Arthritis Foundation-funded research by Kasle revealed that women with rheumatoid arthritis who reported more mutuality had less inflammation. Reported in the Jan. 15, 2010 Arthritis Care & Research, Kasle and her team measured mutuality and levels of the inflammatory marker erythrocyte sedimentation rate, or ESR, at baseline, six and 12 months.

Women who had higher levels of mutuality at baseline and at six months had lower levels of ESR at six and 12 months, even after controlling for the effects of earlier inflammation, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, anti-inflammatory drugs and flares. Mutuality exerted lagged effects on ESR, accounting for 9 percent additional variance in ESR levels at six months and 12.5 percent at 12 months.

ESR levels, however, had no effect on subsequent reports of mutuality, suggesting that mutuality has a beneficial effect on inflammation.

Next steps

Kasle wants to understand what happens in the body that makes social support, such as mutuality, health-enhancing. “A lot of people in psycho-social research right now think the neurohormone oxytocin is helping to format and drive a lot of our connective social behaviors,” she says.

She hopes to conduct additional research into non-spouse/partner relationships and other rheumatology populations, such as those with systemic lupus erythematosus and psoriatic arthritis to further understand how autoimmune activity and neuroendocrine factors impact these conditions. She is currently studying fibromyalgia patients and their spouse/partners and close non-household relationships.

Kasle's long-term goal is to develop social supportive interventions for rheumatology patients.