Loneliness bad for health, new study suggests

By on Jan 21, 2013 in Health, Science, United States Comments

Loneliness is bad for our health and can harm our immune system; this is according to a new study that was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans on Saturday, January 19, 2013.

lonely man

Lonely man
Image Credit: Sodahead.com

As noted at Live Science this Sunday, Lisa Jaremka and her colleagues at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University College of Medicine conducted two studies that both resulted to the conclusion that lonely people are more likely to have poor health and chronic diseases.

According to the report, the tests were made to 200 female breast cancer survivors with an average age of 51 and 134 overweight and middle-age adults with no major health problems. Researchers wanted to understand the connection of the being socially disconnected to the risk of having poor health.

In the first study, the researchers analyzed the blood of the breast cancer survivors for antibodies against cytomegalovirus (CMV) after they answered questions regarding their loneliness. The result showed that lonelier participants have the higher levels of cytomegalovirus antibodies in their blood.

In the second study, the researchers measured inflammatory proteins called cytokines in 144 of the breast cancer survivors as well as the healthy but overweight middle-age adult participants. After they gave blood samples, they were asked to deliver an impromptu speech and answer difficult mental math problems.

To add pressure to the test, the participants were asked in front of a panel of people in white lab coats and no encouragement or tip was given to them. Before the second blood sample was taken from them, the researchers also triggered their immune systems with a harmless compound from bacterial cells.

Apparently, the second test showed that the lonelier participants have the higher the levels of cytokine interleukin-6 after the stressful speech. This cytokine is being noted to be essential for healing in the short term because it promotes inflammation. However, if cytokines react too readily, inflammation can also be harmful.

As a conclusion, the new study noted that lonely people experience more reactivation of latent viruses in their systems than the socially-connected. They are also more likely to produce inflammatory compounds in reaction to stress than those who are not. This factor is being connected with heart disease and other chronic disorders.

“Both, in different ways, indicate that the immune system is a little out of whack. It’s definitely indicating that the immune system is compromised in some way. It’s unable at that time, for whatever reason, in this case loneliness perhaps, to keep that virus under control.” Jaremka was quoted telling to Live Science.

“No matter what they say and no matter what jokes they crack, no matter how much they smile, the panel just stares at them, basically. People who feel socially connected are experiencing positive outcomes.” Jaremka added, noting that lonely people also tend to react more strongly to the negative events in their lives.

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