Everyone experiences feelings of loneliness from time to time. It’s a common emotion to encounter during many events in life such as leaving home, moving to a city or the end of a relationship.
Enduring loneliness, however, can be extremely detrimental to a person’s health, it has been found, and can even affect proper functioning of the immune system in extreme cases.
Researchers from the University of California conducted a study on both humans and rhesus macaque monkeys to determine whether or not periods of extended isolation could lead to the development of chronic diseases or even premature death.
This study took place over the course of ten years. During that time, humans and monkeys deemed to be extremely socially isolated (through various testing criteria) provided samples of urine and white blood cells to be analysed.
Researchers used these samples to identify whether or not isolation would causes changes in the body’s production of various chemicals including the stress hormone cortisol as well as “fight or flight” (hyperarousal) chemicals adrenaline and noradrenaline.
Although the study is still only in its hypothesis stage, the results obtained suggest there may be a link between loneliness and the decreased effectiveness of the immune system.
Consequently, this means loneliness could ultimately cause humans to be at an increased risk of contracting various diseases as a result.
This was attributed to the increased production of inflammatory white blood cells whilst simultaneously decreasing production of antiviral proteins which act to hinder a virus’s ability to successfully replicate and spread throughout the body.
Moving away from the California study, John Cacioppo (a psychologist from the University of Chicago) discovered additional facts from a series of studies he conducted.
Firstly, living alone increases the likelihood of suicide amongst both young and old people and those living in social isolation are more susceptible to stress when subjected to identical scenarios as people who are socially active.
Furthermore, loneliness in humans can raise levels of stress hormones and can also cause the heart muscles to work harder which, in turn, can cause individuals to be at higher risk of heart disease and myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Social activity is just one aspect of human existence and it is important to evaluate life holistically in order live a balanced, healthy and fulfilling life.
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