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Feeling Lonely Can Adversely Affect the Immune System

Update Date: Jan 20, 2013 03:42 AM EST

Loneliness puts a burden on the immune system just as chronic stress does, according to a recent study conducted by The Ohio State University. It was found that being lonely and the feeling of loneliness reactivated the herpes virus in an individual and he/she suffered from many other symptoms which were earlier associated with chronic stress.

The researchers observed that as a result of loneliness, the production of certain proteins in the body increased. These proteins are produced in the body when there is swelling; this is in turn linked to many diseases like coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's. This protein is also associated with the aging process.

"It is clear from previous research that poor-quality relationships are linked to a number of health problems, including premature mortality and all sorts of other very serious health conditions. And people who are lonely clearly feel like they are in poor-quality relationships. One reason this type of research is important is to understand how loneliness and relationships broadly affect health. The more we understand about the process, the more potential there is to counter those negative effects - to perhaps intervene. If we don't know the physiological processes, what are we going to do to change them?" Lisa Jaremka, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University and the lead author of the research, was quoted as saying in Medical Xpress.

For the research, 200 volunteers who had combated breast cancer successfully were taken. All of these volunteers were on an average 51 years of age and the time interval between completion of treatment and participation in the research was two months to three years. The blood sample of these patients was collected and their immune response against antibodies Epstein-Barr and cytomegalovirus were studied.

The uniqueness of these viruses are that upon infection, the virus is inactive and can be reactivated; they are both from the herpes virus. On reactivation, the antibodies in the immune system increase; although they produce no distinguishable symptoms, they do indicate a problem in the regulation of the cellular immune system.

"We saw consistency in the sense that more lonely people in both studies had more inflammation than less lonely people. It's also important to remember the flip side, which is that people who feel very socially connected are experiencing more positive outcomes," Jaremka observed.

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