By Karis Tutuska ’18
It is widely accepted that loneliness can damage mental health. However, a recent study supported by the National Institutes of Health suggested that isolation affects physical health as well. Researchers studied 141 adults aged 50-68 and found that the feeling of loneliness a phenomenon known as “conserved transcriptional response to adversity”(CTRA).
CTRA has two major physiological consequences: it inhibits genetic expression of inflammation and a decreased expression of antiviral genes, weakening the immune system, and increases genetic expression of inflammatory proteins, often leading to cellular damage. Researchers have found that this response was unique to a prolonged feeling of social isolation, and not explainable by factors such as stress or depression.
To determine the cellular mechanism behind this relationship, researchers studied the effects of increased CRTA expression in isolated rhesus monkeys. They found that the monkeys had increased levels of norepinephrine (associated with the “fight or flight” response), which can stimulate stem cells in the bone marrow to produce immature monocytes that exhibit increased CRTA activity in the white blood cell pool.
While the exact causes behind this relationship remain unclear, the study suggests that CTRA and loneliness operate in a positive feedback cycle. Individuals suffering from prolonged loneliness could experience a weakened immune system and more frequent . Who knew that social interaction was so good for physical health?
- David DiSalvo. Loneliness Destroys Physical Health From The Inside Out. Forbes.
- Image Acquired from: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/92/Loneliness_(4101974109).jpg.
- Susie Allen, Loneliness triggers cellular changes that can cause illness, study shows. UChicagoNews.