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April 28, 2012
The problem of feeling lonely and being lonely has been studied and discussed for many centuries. Remember The Beatles: “Look at all the lonely people”? Loneliness and social isolation are really very hard to cope with for all of us without exception. Loneliness affects the way we behave and think, the way we understand this world and our place in it. According to the findings of a group of experts at the University of Chicago published three years ago in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, social isolation also has negative effects on how people’s brain work. In particular, social isolation may lead to finding comfort in non-social rewards, and the scientists explain this phenomenon by decreased function of the ventral striatum (the area of the brain associated with rewards) in all lonely people.
The same group of scientists went on researching the changes in human brain and body related to social isolation, with particular attention to the connections between loneliness and health. To begin with, the expert group led by Steve Cole of the University of California and John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago examined closely the changes of the immunity system of socially isolated people who agreed to participate in the study. The experts have found evidence showing that there are certain changes on genetic levels that take place in the immune system of those who have been in social isolation for a long period of time. Namely: several key genes in all lonely people who took part in the study were underespressed and affected normal function of the immune system, providing great environment for infections and viruses to thrive.
Further research has demonstrated that those in social isolation have much lower degree of natural protection against such common diseases as cancer, cardiovascular problems, and others, compared to those people who lead an active social life . “What we see is a consistent pattern where it looks like human immune cells are programmed with a defensive strategy that gets activated in socially active people,” one of the study leader said. It is interesting that the immune system of lonely people is somehow programmed to fight against bacterial infections rather than against viral infections, that is why risks of suffering from common viral diseases like influenza, measles, herpes, papillomas, etc., are much higher in all lonely people.
Finally, the latest stages of the research have resulted in findings scientific evidence of the fact that social isolation is linked to increased levees of stress hormone cortisol, increased blood pressure, hardening of arteries and much higher chances to suffer from a stroke or heart attack. These obvious connections between loneliness and health turned out to be quite strong, showing that loneliness and social isolation lead not only to feeling unhappy, but also feeling sick and suffering from a great deal of serious health conditions. All lonely people should be aware about the fact that loneliness can be deadly, so they should do everything possible in order to get closer to the society, no matter how hard it can be. You can read more about the findings of this interesting study here.Author Info: Hi! My name is Carla and I am a 5th year medical student at HYMS. I am interested in alternative medicine and I have done months researching the topic of herbal medicine. Besides, I like interviewing people and learning more about their experiences with one or another type of herbal treatments. I am willing to contribute to this site with my knowledge, and I would be happy to help you out to the best of my ability with any specific questions or problems related to alternative medicine.