Social isolation and loneliness cause chronic disease and early mortality

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woman-stressed-out(NaturalHealth365) Smoking, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise are known risk factors for early mortality. They also receive considerable attention by physicians, nutritionists, and the media. But, do you know that social isolation and loneliness are also risk factors?

That’s right: New scientific data confirms that feeling lonely increases the risk of premature death at all ages.

Additionally, a study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science found there was no difference in actual and perceived social isolation.  In fact, early mortality was a risk for both.

The blunt truth: Loneliness is a serious threat to human health

The study included quantitative data for a period of 34 years on mortality as affected by loneliness, social isolation, and living alone. The increased likelihood of mortality was 29 percent, 26 percent, and 32 percent respectively.

Results were consistent across gender, length of follow-up, and world region. Social deficits were more predictive of death in people under the age of 65 – something that should be taken very seriously.

Research shows that the rising loneliness epidemic is more dangerous than the obesity epidemic

According to researchers of the 3.4 decade study, the number of people feeling lonely is on the rise. According to co-author Tim Smith, professor of counseling psychology of Brigham Young University:

“The current status of research on the risks of loneliness and social isolation is similar to that of research on obesity 3 decades ago – although further research on causal pathways is needed, researchers now know both the levels of risk and the social trends suggestive of even greater risk in the future.”

Due to the evolution of the internet and social media, social isolation shouldn’t seem like a problem. However, Professor Tim Smith states:

“Not only are we at the highest recorded rate of living alone across the entire century, but we’re at the highest recorded rates ever on the planet. With loneliness on the rise, we are predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future.”

Loneliness activates the brain’s danger signals and triggers biological changes for the worse

Another groundbreaking study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal confirmed for the first time that loneliness triggers biological changes that make people sick with chronic disease. The study found that white blood cells are disrupted due to the “fight or flight” response. Genes responsible for inflammation and fighting off illness is also responsible for loneliness.

The immune responses in lonely people were also shown to be less effective compared to non-lonely people, according to researchers from the University of California, as well as from the University of Chicago. According to co-author John Capitanio, a research psychologist at the University of California:

“Perceived social isolation is a risk factor for chronic illness and all-cause mortality, but the molecular mechanisms remain ill understood. In humans, loneliness involves an implicit hypervigilance for social threat.”

The link between loneliness and a biological phenomenon

The university researchers analyzed the link between loneliness and a biological phenomenon called Conserved Transcriptional Response to Adversity (CTRA). Identifying factors of the phenomenon include the genes responsible for inflammation as well as antiviral reactions.

The findings showed that loneliness affects the “fight or flight” response which places a person at risk for health issues.

With loneliness, the “fight or flight” response increases immature monocyte production in the blood. The inflammatory genes are then increased due to the high levels of monocytes.

Additionally, the increased monocytes lowers the activity of genes responsible for fighting off viruses and bacteria. Production of white blood cells is then disrupted and places a person at risk.

Secondly, increased norepinephrine triggers the blood stem cells of bone marrow to create more immature monocytes. This increased production also explains the heightened CTRA activity in the pool of white blood cells.

Further, researchers discovered that loneliness can predict CTRA activity one year or more into the future. There was no connection to any other forms of danger such as depression or stress.

Overcoming social isolation and loneliness is worth the effort

With the rise of technology (televisions, computers, and cell phones), social isolation doesn’t occur from just living alone. Research is proving that. If you’re lonely, you may want to find ways to break the feelings of isolation.

Getting involved with social groups in your local community, as well as helping out at your local charities, may be a way for you to start feeling loved, needed, and non-lonely.

About the author: Abby Campbell is a medical, health, and nutrition research writer. She’s dedicated to helping people live a healthy lifestyle in all aspects – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Abby practices, writes, and coaches on natural preventive care, nutritional medicine, and complementary and alternative therapy.

References:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25910392
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/11/18/1514249112
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-11/uoc-ltc112015.php

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  • Nurse Lori

    It is wonderful to be able to depend on friendships for support. This helps make connections, which sustain you throughout your life. I have seen the power of this many times.

    I have watched people with major health problems survive by being surrounded by good friends, family and neighbors. At the same time, I have seen people with the same chronic health probables do poorly without the same social contacts.

  • Judith Lugar

    I wonder what is going to happen in the future. Is social media the same as real personal connections? When I was growing up we depended on neighbors and nearby family for both emotional and physical help.

  • Abby L

    This may be why giving feels better than receiving. It is connecting in a meaningful way to a person or a cause. This must be a human need or it would not have such a powerful effect.

  • Lilly Lopez

    I live in a retirement community and watch how lonely and isolated people become in their latter years. The worth of a society is how the elderly are taken care of.

    Their children live out of state and hardly visit as they are too busy with their own lives. The other residents seem to have forgotten that they too will get older and need help.
    We are not always a compassionate society.

  • Sandy Hawkin

    More people are isolated than ever before. At the same time they are more connected to the world through television news. This alone can cause depression and negative thinking.