Isolation and loneliness affect health

Isolation and loneliness affect health
A study shows that feeling alone alters the expression of genes that produce white blood cells. Loneliness weakens the defenses. It was a matter of time before it could be shown that a mood can reach impact on the body so that just changing the expression of certain genes. A team from the University of Chicago led by John Cacioppo, a specialist in social genetics, just published in the journal PNAS a job in showing how a feeling of deep loneliness extended in time can alter the expression of genes involved in the production of white blood cells and trigger inflammation mechanisms. In other words: loneliness weakens the immune system and makes us more vulnerable to bacterial or viral infections. If we take into account that inflammatory processes are at the origin of other diseases, such as some cardiovascular conditions, the conclusion is obvious: the feeling of isolation and loneliness can seriously damage health.

Some epidemiological studies have shown before that married men were living longer, they had better health than single or divorced and lived alone. And not because the sacred bond of marriage behave any kind of divine protection, as some wanted to play, but because the simple fact of living in company, taking a life in common with others, involves a type of attitudes and behaviors that protect health . For example, people with family responsibilities tend to eat more healthily and more often avoid risky situations. Mere sociology.

But one thing is knowing that someone isolated empirical observation or solo ends up having worse health and other describe the biological mechanisms involved in the process. Long before genetic became an open book for science we had observed that monozygotic twins, those that are identical because they come from the same egg, they could get sick very different pathologies. Epigenetics has been commissioned to study how the environment acts on the genetic inheritance of a person. Certain emotional conditions do not stop being a response to an environmental situation. It was expected to have impact on genes. And Cacioppo's team has observed both in humans and in a primate species, the reshus macaques, which are particularly sociable. For macaques it was found even how insulation altered production of a neurotransmitter whose function is to activate the immune system.

All things considered, the finding is logical. The genetic imperative of any organism is to survive and, as we demonstrated the biologist Lynn Margulis, evolution explained by mechanisms of cooperation than competition. In the case of humans, survival as a species is directly linked to the ability to live in society. And that is reflected in the genes of each individual. The conclusion is clear: inclusive policies, those that facilitate life in society and protect people's privacy, also improve health.

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