Loneliness can tax the Immune System

Interesting research has been conducted by investigators from the Ohio State University. The research links loneliness to a number of dysfunctional immune responses which suggests loneliness may adversely affect overall health.

The results were based on a series of studies on two different groups: 1) a healthy group of overweight middle-aged adults and 2) a group of breast cancer survivors with an average age of 51. Loneliness was measured using the UCLA Loneliness Scale.

The researchers measured presence of antibodies against Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus in the breast cancer survivor group with 200 participants. Lonelier participants were found to have higher levels of antibodies against cytomegalovirus compared to less lonely participants. Further, those higher antibody levels were related to more depression, pain, and fatigue symptoms. No difference was found for Epstein-Barr virus antibody levels. Previous research has shown that stress can result in reactivation of these viruses and the researchers suggest that loneliness can be thought of as a chronic stressor.

The researchers also looked at proinflammatory proteins known as cytokines. For this study 144 women from breast cancer survivor group were used and a group of 134 overweight middle-aged adults were also used. The researchers took baseline blood samples and then subjected the participants to stress. In both groups interleukin-6 or IL-6 was produced significantly higher in those who were more lonely. Levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha) were also statistically significantly higher amongst the healthy middle age for those who were more lonely. Exploring these proinflamatory proteins is important because they signal inflammation and chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health problems and conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, coronary heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

In a previous study I discussed on this blog tumor necrosis factor-alpha levels are shown to be elevated in New Daily Persistent Headache, see http://blog.teethremoval.com/high-tumor-necrosis-factor-alpha-levels-in-people-with-new-daily-persitent-headache/.

I have also posted about some facts about breast cancer http://blog.teethremoval.com/breast-cancer-infographic/ and an interesting video to help raise awareness of breast cancer http://blog.teethremoval.com/rethink-breast-cancer-your-man-reminder/.

Since you now better understand the effects that loneliness can have on the immune system, perhaps you may now be more interested in taking a more proactive approach to be in a healthy stable relationship and not become lonely. If you have been considering something like couples therapy but were worried about the cost perhaps now is a good time to reconsider. Nowadays couples can receive affordable therapy online that can help them rebuild their connection and be better equipped to handle future conflicts.

Source: “Loneliness, Like Chronic Stress, Taxes the Immune System,” January 17, 2013, http://www.newswise.com/articles/loneliness-like-chronic-stress-taxes-the-immune-system

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