Is loneliness making you ill?

Numerous studies have already demonstrated that people who live alone have a shorter life expectancy and have greater risks of suffering from various diseases, compared to people who feel supported by those around them. The results of a small American study published in the journal Genome Biology, suggest there is a link between loneliness, genetics and the immune system, confirming what many experts have long believed.

Numerous studies have already demonstrated that people who live alone have a shorter life expectancy and have greater risks of suffering from various diseases, compared to people who feel supported by those around them. The results of a small American study published in the journal Genome Biology, suggest there is a link between loneliness, genetics and the immune system, confirming what many experts have long believed.

Fourteen volunteers were enrolled in the small study. The researchers determined the volunteer’s level of social interaction using a scoring system. They then examined and compared the genetic activity in the white blood cells of the “lonely” volunteers and those who were more socially active.

The researchers observed that certain genes were “over expressed” in the volunteers who lived in solitude, when compared to the volunteers who felt supported by their family and friends. These genes were also known to be linked to the body’s ability to fight off disease, such as causing inflammation. We know that these processes can damage tissues, leading to the emergence of certain diseases.

However, in the volunteers who did not feel lonely, researchers actually observed greater gene activity in connection to the body’s ability to fight off viruses and produce immune antibodies.

Even though these results are quite obviously revelatory, it begs the question: which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Does isolation actually cause these genetic changes? Or do these genetic changes have an impact on the individual, leading to social isolation? Obviously, further research is necessary for scientists to clarify this enigma once and for all. In the meantime, socially isolated individuals should be encouraged to break the cycle and be more socially active.

We now know that loneliness is not only bad for your morale, it is also bad for you health! If you know a loved one is feeling isolated, try to get them involved in activities that encourage greater social interaction and help break the cycle of loneliness.

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