How loneliness could be changing your brain and body

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People were already isolated before the advent of technology. coronavirusPandemic struck. Before COVID-19 made it difficult to get close to people at home, researchers realized Americans were feeling more alone than ever. 

Cigna’s 2018 survey found that 54% 20,000 Americans reported having received health care coverage. Feeling alone. The number grew to 61% in a little more than a decade. Generation Z adults between 18 and 22 years old are allegedly the most isolated generation. This is despite them being more connected than Boomers, Gen X, or Millennials. 

Doug Nemecek is the chief medical officer at Cigna. 

Even more troubling is the growing body of research that suggests loneliness can have a negative impact on people’s mental and physical health.

Cigna also found that obesity and smoking pose health risks. 

An 2018 article in The LancetThe situation was described as follows: “Imagine a condition making a person irritable and depressed, and that is associated with a 26% rise in the risk for premature death.” 

These are not the normal times. COVID-19 has shown that keeping away from others is the best way to keep healthy, even though it can lead to isolation. This is a reason to think about how loneliness can affect everything, from your brain to your heart to your immune system. 

Why are we lonely

While loneliness might be associated with being alone, the feeling is deeper than that. It can also refer to not having plans for Friday night or going stag to a wedding. Evolutionarily, being part a group has been associated with protection, sharing the burden and greater chances of survival. It takes humans a long time for them to mature. Our tribes are essential. 

Julianne Holt-Lundstad is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Brigham Young University. “It can be very distressing when it’s not part of a group.” “We must deal with our environment completely on our own without the assistance of others. This puts our brain in an alert state, and also signals to the rest of the body to be in that state.”

The body can be worn down by being in a high level of alert or stress. Stress hormones such as cortisol or norepinephrine may contribute to this. Anxiety, sleeplessness, and weight gainAccording to Mayo Clinic, this can lead to prolonged exposure. 

Holt Lundstad said that the pandemic was one of most difficult experiences people have faced in their entire lives. Everyday life has been disrupted, the unemployment rate has risen and over 6 million people have been infected around the globe. Normally, such huge challenges would make it difficult to find support from family and friends. The nature of viruses means that people are often more isolated than ever and it is even more difficult to cope. 

The study of loneliness

Although loneliness is something that almost everyone can relate, scientists continue to study how it affects health. Research has a fundamental problem: Loneliness can’t be measured. It is impossible to gauge how lonely someone feels based on their social networks. 

Holt-Lundstad explained that it was a matter of asking people in surveys how they feel. Directly (how often would y’all say you’re alone?) Holt-Lundstad said it’s a matter of asking people how they feel in surveys, either directly (how often would you say you’re lonely?) or indirectly (“Do you feel that you lack companionship?”).  

NASA is studying the effects of Spaceman astronauts are kept in isolationFor years, researchers have come to the same conclusion as many other studies: Being isolated can cause cognitive and behavioral problems. Researchers elsewhere are examining biological aspects of loneliness, and how it affects the body.

That can mean looking at brains. 

Researchers at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease CenterChicago oversaw the study of 823 seniors in four years. They used questionnaires and tests to assess loneliness and Alzheimer’s disease classifications. They discovered that an individual’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s rose 51% with each additional point on the scale. 

The autopsies of those who died during the research were done. The “hallmark brain changes” associated with Alzheimer’s disease (e.g. nerve plaques and tangles or tissue damage due to lack of blood flow) weren’t found to be caused by loneliness. Robert S. Wilson, a researcher in the study, suggested that loneliness may make people more susceptible to the “deleterious consequences of age-related neuropathology.”

“Loneliness [can]Turhan Canli, professor at Stony Brook University of integrative neuroscience, stated that it is a reliable predictor of cognitive decline. 

Scientists are examining the relationship between loneliness and gene expression.


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We don’t know how loneliness is connected to health issues. Canli suggested that someone who is feeling depressed or lonely might not be able to take care themselves. They may not eat well. They might eat poorly, drink excessively, be anxious, and sleep in excess. These habits can have long-lasting effects.

Canli also spoke about the work he’s done with David Bennett, a Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center researcher, which examines how different genes are expressed among people who are lonely. 

Bennett began a longitudinal study 30 years ago. Participants agreed to undergo annual psychological and physical checkups as well as to donate their brains after they die. The brain’s regions that are related to cognition or emotion were studied by the researchers. They discovered genes linked to cancer, heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. Inflammatory diseasesThese sentiments were expressed by those who were more alone. 

Canli stated, “There is actually a network between these different genes through which they can affect one another.” This could be an underlying reason why these diseases might appear as a result of loneliness.

However, loneliness does not cause heart disease. More research is needed to determine the role of heritability in gene expression. Steve Cole, a UCLA researcher suggested an alternative possibility. He found that certain hormones may be released under stress from sustained loneliness and activate certain genes related to health problems. 

Canli stated that “the subjective experience must be translated somehow into the brain into biology. 

Understanding these relationships can help to improve treatments for patients. 

The future of loneliness

While states are beginning to lift lockdown restrictions and restrictions on bars and restaurants in public places, it’s not known what social distancing could do for society. Harvard researchers reported April Intermittent social distancingThrough 2022, it could be necessary. 

Scott Kelly, a NASA astronaut who spent 340 days in orbit, wrote a piece in March for The New York Times. Offering advice based upon his experiences. Kelly recommends keeping track of your activities, creating a schedule and starting a hobby. 

Cigna’s Nemeck said that it is important to be present for others and to have honest conversations about loneliness. While removing any stigma associated with the feeling, it is essential to keep in touch.

“We should reach out and make friends, and keep those connections going and have meaningful conversations,” he stated. “It’s important to feel at ease asking people what they think.”

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