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Your brain sees being lonely as DANGEROUS
We’ve all had moments of feeling lonely – either we feel left out or that we don’t belong. They’re not pleasant, but usually pass quickly. When these moments, turn to hours, days or weeks – health begins to suffer.
But why ?
Keen to understand the biological roots of loneliness, a team of American researchers probed what was happening in the blood cells of 141 people, suffering from PSI.
I feel lonely…
PSI stands for perceived social isolation aka. loneliness. It’s not about being alone, per se. Being alone is not necessarily problematic, problems arise when people find themselves “alone”, when they don’t want to be. It is this discrepancy, between preferred and actual social interactions, that leads to a diagnosis of PSI.
To be diagnosed with PSI, you need to score 41 or more points on the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a questionnaire that probes the quantity and quality of your social relations.
In the case of the participants being probed in this study, all of them had managed to hit this number on at least three occasions, during a five year period of monitoring.
Lonely not sick
The people with the diagnosis were “normal” in terms of the usual health biomarkers. The thing that stood out, they all had less social support and they seemed to stress more easily and feel a little more miserable i.e. depressed.
Which makes sense………….these people felt socially isolated.
Being socially isolated had a toll
On the gene expression of their white blood cells.
The blood samples were gathered, every year, as part of a big on going study, known as the Chicago Health, Aging and Social Relations cohort. Each year, the team, isolated a particular kind of white blood cell, the PBMCs from the sample and studied which genes were turned on and which were turned off.
One gene, the CTRA gene was always switched on this population. It wasn’t turned on in people, without social problems. The gene, the Conserved Transcriptional Response to Adversity gene’s name says it all – it’s activated in ADVERSITY.
The brain sees being socially isolated as an ADVERSITY.
This causes the sympathetic, the fight or flight arm of your nervous system to be firing on all four cyclinders.
The fight and flight response
You’re ready to RUN…………………….. this hyper vigilant states, sees your heart beat faster and your blood pressure rise, a little higher.
The team found, a couple of other things, also happened when it is activated in people suffering from PSI :
- They had more white blood cells, specifically monocytes are produced
- These monocytes had switched on, pro-inflammatory genes, causing……………….a low grade inflammation
- The type I interferon and antibody-related genes had been switched off
The absence of the type I interferon response, impairs the ability of the immune system to respond timeously, to a viral infection.
Oh dear !
A PSI sufferer is more likely to catch a cold.
But, that’s not all………..
Sickness behaviours materialize
Pro-inflammatory cytokines bring INFLAMMATION. And inflammation, especially when it happens in the brain, causes you to ACT SICK.
You’re more anxious. Less motivated. More miserable. Less social.
Which makes you …………………..LONELY.
Eish ! It’s a catch twenty two.
The lonely roundabout
The longitudinal nature of the study, allowed researchers to observe……
More CTRA gene expression caused more social isolation
More social isolation caused more CTRA gene expression
Start socializing, to be social
As humans, we need social interaction.
We need to be part of a tribe, we need to belong. It is wired into our biology.
When this social interaction is “missing”, it produces more than SAD feelings, it changes our biology. And, these biological changes, make us, more lonely.
To break the cycle of PSI, you need to start socializing……….
Being social is not easy
Of course, this is easier said than done. It is hard to BE SOCIAL, when you don’t feel like it.
If you know someone who seems socially isolated – reach out to them. Understand, their biology is more than likely driving their behaviour. If you help them CONNECT, you’ll break the cycle.
Of social isolation and low grade inflammation….
Connecting alleviates inflammation
We ALL know inflammation is BAD. It is implicated in obesity and causes a multitude of health problems, from arthritis to xerosis.
Many things have been blamed for inflammation
- Specific foods, such as gluten and vegetable oils
- Too many fat cells
- Not getting enough sleep
- Specific nutrient deficiencies
One thing that doesn’t often get “blamed” is lack of social interactions. Connecting with others is not a nice to have, it is a biological necessity.
To create BETTER BODY CHEMISTRY…….go enjoy a cup of tea with SOMEONE.
Loneliness is associated with ill health. Could it also be contributing to obesity ? We need social interaction, not social media.
Dinner racing is common practice, and there is always a pace setter in the race. It is good to know who this is, then do your best to avoid fitting in.
Dealing with sickness and disease is never easy, but a little love helps big time. The source of “love” doesn’t need to be human, a four legged friend will do.
Interested in learning more about how to create BETTER BODY CHEMISTRY ?
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