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The Powerful Connection Between Loneliness and The Immune System


Loneliness is something that many people struggle with in their lives, making it hard to live a happy and fulfilling existence.  Recent studies done by researchers from Ohio State University have found that loneliness is associated with abnormal immune responses in the body which can eventually lead to unwanted health effects.

They found that people who were more lonely showed signs of elevated dormant herpes virus reactivation and produced more inflammation-related proteins in response to acute stress than people who felt more socially connected.  Persistent inflammation is connected to a number of serious health conditions, including, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.

“It is clear from previous research that poor-quality relationships are linked to a number of health problems, including premature mortality and all sorts of other very serious health conditions. And people who are lonely clearly feel like they are in poor-quality relationships,” said Lisa Jaremka, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University and lead author of the research.

200 breast cancer survivors and a group of 134 overweight middle-aged and older adults with no major health problems were studied, using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which measures their own perceived loneliness and social isolation.

The researchers found that lonelier participants had increased levels of antibodies against cytomegalovirus, which is a type of herpes virus, than less lonely participants after taking blood samples from both.  These higher antibody levels were also linked to more depression, pain, and fatigue symptoms.

“The same processes involved in stress and reactivation of these viruses is probably also relevant to the loneliness findings,” Jaremka said. “Loneliness has been thought of in many ways as a chronic stressor – a socially painful situation that can last for quite a long time.”

All in all, the evidence shows that people who suffer from loneliness have a greater chance to experience negative effects to their health than those who are more social. Jaremka concluded with, “We saw consistency in the sense that more lonely people in both studies had more inflammation than less lonely people.  It’s also important to remember the flip side, which is that people who feel very socially connected are experiencing more positive outcomes.”


Work Cited

“Loneliness, Like Stress, Taxes Immune System.” Dawn.com. Dawn.com, n.p. 22 Jan. 2013. Web. 24 Jan. 2013.

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Filed under: Conditions and Disorders, Research · Tags: Cytomegalovirus, depression, Fatigue, Herpes Virus, Immune System, Loneliness, Pain, Social Isolation, stress

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