HAVING A LACK OF FRIENDS, OR SUFFERING FROM LONELINESS, COULD BE AS DEADLY AS SMOKING, SUGGESTS RESEARCHERS AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY.
The researchers discovered a link between loneliness and the levels of a blood-clotting protein, fibrinogen, which can cause heart attacks and stroke. Fibrinogen accumulates when the body’s “fight or flight” stress signals are activated. Too much of this protein is bad for health, raises blood pressure and causes the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries.
HARVARD RESEARCHERS DISCOVERED THAT SOCIAL ISOLATION CONTRIBUTES TO HEIGHTENED LEVELS OF FIBRINOGEN.
They compared the numbers of friends and family in a person’s social circle to the levels of the blood-clotting protein and found a striking correlation. The fewer social connections a person had, the higher their fibrinogen levels were.
The study found that people with only 5 people in their social circle had levels of fibrinogen that were 20% higher than those who had 25 people. Those with only 10-12 fewer friends saw the same elevation of fibrinogen levels in their body as someone would who has taken up smoking.
SOCIAL ISOLATION, AND THE FEELING OF LONELINESS THAT STEMS FROM IT, IS BELIEVED TO TRIGGER A CONSTANT “FIGHT OR FLIGHT” RESPONSE IN OUR BODY BECAUSE WE FEEL THREATENED OR VULNERABLE. IF IT CONTINUES AND IS AN ONGOING OCCURRENCE, IT CAN BE LETHAL.
Head author of the study from Harvard, Dr. David Kim, said:
“Measurement of the whole social network can provide information about an individual’s cardiac risk that is not necessarily apparent to the individual herself.”
“Social connectedness displays a significant association with fibrinogen.
“If there is indeed an independent causal relationship between social isolation and fibrinogen and, subsequently, heart disease and stroke, then policies and interventions that improve social connectedness may have health effects even beyond the well-known benefits of improved economic conditions.”
The University of York also published a study on the health of lonely people, and found that they had a 30% higher chance of suffering from heart disease or stroke.
The researchers could not pinpoint an exact reason why this was the case, but some believed it was caused by not only the lack of people in their social network, but also because there was no one to motivate them or help them look after their health.
Dr. Nicole Valtorta led the study and said: “These findings are consistent with a growing body of research indicating that social relationships are important for health.
“Our recent review, based on self-reports of social relationships, found that individuals who felt lonely or who were socially isolated had on average a 30 per cent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease or having a stroke.
“It may be that some of the effect observed by the authors of the article is a result of people’s social relationships being affected by poor health. To build on this study, future studies are needed to investigate whether interventions that tackle social isolation have an effect on health.”
WHEN WE THINK OF LONELINESS AND WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY IT, WE TEND TO THINK OF THE ELDERLY. HOWEVER, A STUDY BY THE MENTAL HEALTH FOUNDATION SHOWS THAT IT WAS MORE OFTEN 18-35 YEAR OLDS WHO FELT LONELIER, AS OPPOSED TO THOSE OVER 55 YEARS OF AGE.
The associate medical director of The British Heart Foundation, Dr Mike Knapton, said:
“BHF-funded research has already identified that social isolation can have a negative impact on your heart health.
“Using a new measure of social connectedness, this study identifies an association between how connected we are to our family and friends and our levels of a blood clotting protein, called fibrinogen, which can increase your risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke.
“We can’t conclude from this research that social isolation directly causes heart problems. But the possibility that social factors can affect a protein in our blood, like fibrinogen, is an interesting prospect for further research in this area.”
Obviously, some of us are picky about who we let into our little world- and with good reason. But don’t shut the world out. Instead, find people you want to share your hopes and dreams with, and who want you to succeed as much as you want yourself to.