Nothing, and EVERYTHING to do with health….who you are is who you surround yourself with. Our connections to others has major health benefits.

I received an email this morning from my youngest brother. While I read it and wept, so many thoughts crossed my mind about its application to my own health and the health of my patients that I could not resist the call to share it publicly. At first glance your response may read something like “why is Doctor Alessi posting an email from her brother” or “wow, she’s really sentimental”. Please take the time to read this very important letter, examine its content in your own life and read about the health benefits of a loving repectful realtionship. “J” is my mother, Joan, and Fidelis, my father.

From my brother:

I found the note below on mom’s kitchen table tonight. Dad must have given it to mom for their twentieth anniversary. I put it in into an e-mail in the event the original letter is ever misplaced. I didn’t change a thing – comma, dash, capital letter – it’s exactly how dad wrote it. Enjoy…

Dear J,

I hope you are not disappointed but this represents a compromise between what you deserve and what I could afford. I decided to buy this diamond even though the 20th anniversary is platinum and china.

I did it for three reasons. The first being that diamond is one of the hardest substances in the world. It is symbolic of the mental toughness you have shown in the last twenty years in rearing our family. Only you and I and The Lord know how many sacrifices and what hardships you endured during our early married life. What a great job you’ve done! God knows how little I helped and how well our children have done. Without your constant support, I often wonder where we would be today.

The second reason is the diamond’s brilliance and beauty reflects these qualities in you. That is how I see you. To me – you are always beautiful. My mind and eyes see you no different today than the day we married.

Third, “diamonds are forever” as I hope we will always be. When things get tough, look at it and remember the spirit in which it was given. Remember that I love you and hope to be with you for as long as this diamond lasts.

Last but not least, there is a fourth reason – I really think you deserve it.


My father passed away in 1993 from cancer, but not without a fight. He was not ready to die. He lived his life working hard to support 7 children ( I am number 6/7). Before he died I was able to take time off from my residency to be with my father. As we were going from test to test and dealing with his disease, he naturally talked a lot about his life and his reflections upon it. He shared that his biggest regret was not having had spent enough time with his children. He felt that he had singularly focused on providing the income to support all the activities we were doing and was deeply saddened that he had not been able to be a more physically present parent. While it is true that he did not attend all of my basketball and soccer games, his influence on me and my life today is profound. The example that he set in his daily living, his commitment to a christian lifestyle, his treatment of others and in his relationship with my mother was an everlasting gift that he could not for see. His relationships with all people, including my mother had the most impact. Although he dreaded “cocktail party small talk”, he was gifted in his listening, and in his support as a friend and a father. He was trusted, respected and loved in all his relationships.

With divorce rates higher than ever, addictive diseases on the rise, families separated by miles of distance and the overwhelming bombardment of stressors from everyday life–our relationships are more important than ever.

There have been many studies to support the idea that our level of connectedness, the strength of our relationships and the love that we feel has profound health benefits.

For instance a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, in 1992, by Williams, RB, et al (JAMA 1192, 267(4):520-24), interviewed 1,400 men and women post cardiac catheterization (a test to check for blocked arteries of the heart), looked at several variables. They interviewed the patients and asked them questions including “are you married?” and “Do you have someone you can confide in?” . People who were not married and had no close confidants had three times the death rate of the other groups over 5 years. In another study reported in the American Journal of Medicine in 1976 (Madalie, JH and U Goldboutt, 1976, 60(6):910-921.), 10,000 men with three or more risk factors for heart disease were followed for the onset of angina (chest pain due to blocked coronary arteries) for five years. All were asked the question, “Does your wife show you her love?”. Those who answered “yes” had a 50% lower rate of angina onset than those who answered no.

Our relationships with our parents is equally as critical. In a Johns Hopkins study in 1991 (Groves et al, Cancer Detection and Prevention 1991, 15(5):59-64) 1,100 male medical students were interviewed. The measure was of “closeness to parents” Scale. Cancer rates , 50 years later correlated closely with the degree of closeness to a parent.

The famous Harvard Mastery of Stress Study involved 126 male Harvard students, 1952-1954. They were followed for 35 years for outcome of significant illness (Coronary artery disease, Hypertension, Cancer, Ulcer, Alcohol abuse, etc). The relationship with their mother and father was characterized as either very close, warm and friendly, tolerant or strained and cold. If the relationship with the mother was tolerant or strained 91% had significant disease, while the close and warm group had 45% development of significant disease. If the relationship with both parents was strained, 100% developed significant health risks.

The effects of our relationships can also effect our immune system acutely. A fascinating study published in the Journal of the American medical Association in 1997 (Cohen, S et al, JAMA, 1997, 277:1940-44) gave 276 healthy volunteer a cold virus (rhinovirus) thru nasal drops. All volunteers were then tested and fond to be shedding the virus. The volunteers were interviewed for 12 types of social relationships–parental, childhood, groups, etc,. Those who scored 3 of 12 or less on the relationship scale developed cold symptoms 4 times more frequently.

It is well established that our connectedness to each other, our relationships to our loved ones, family and friends has overwhelming impact on our health. It may in fact be one of the greatest predictors of health outcome that we know.

So, ask yourself today if you have given all that you can to the people who need you, count on you and support you. Work hard to maintain healthy relationships and relieve yourself of the ones that are are unhealthy.

Use physical affection, words of affirmation, acts of service , gifts , or share quality time with those you love to let them know you care.

“It is not how much love you do, but how much love you put into the doing that matters.” -Mother Teresa.