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Loneliness can have serious consequences for body and health

Loneliness can have serious consequences for body and health Loneliness can cause health problems (Photo: freepik.com)

New research has shown that loneliness can negatively impact our bodies and health, triggering physical reactions. Sometimes, these reactions can be quite serious, according to Psychologies.

Loneliness affects people differently. For those who have been in abusive relationships, it can be a time of peaceful independence. For others, it can be a true curse, leading to a daily sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

In addition to its impact on our mental health, well-being, and moral state, the lack of social connections can have catastrophic consequences for our physical health.

Immuno-metabolic syndrome

The influence of chronic loneliness extends to physiological pathways, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), inflammation, metabolism, recovery, and brain function. This can trigger heightened stress responses, disrupt the regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and cause health problems.

The cumulative impact of physiological changes is referred to as the immuno-metabolic syndrome, emphasizing the connection between loneliness and health. In other words, loneliness can put us in a state of prolonged stress, mobilizing all the resources of our body to protect us.

Epigenetic changes

There is evidence that loneliness can affect the body by altering the functioning of our genes. Methylation, the attachment of methyl groups to gene promoters, is part of the genetic response to adverse influences (conserved transcriptional response to adversity - CTRA).

This reaction forces the genes of the body to become more or less active when a person faces challenging social situations. Although further research is needed, these gene expression models are associated with negative health outcomes.

Telomeres and aging

It is believed that psychological factors such as loneliness can influence telomeres - repetitive DNA sequences located at the ends of chromosomes. Telomeres shorten with cell division, and this allows us to infer a person's age from the length of their telomeres.

Interestingly, we can also determine whether people are aging faster than expected based on their chronological age. Some studies show that people experiencing chronic loneliness have shorter telomeres, meaning that loneliness can make people age faster.

Use of psychoactive substances

Loneliness is associated with various substance abuse problems, creating complex two-way relationships. People are said to use psychoactive substances to feel something or to stop feeling something. Those who regulate their emotions through smoking, alcohol consumption, marijuana use, and opioids often do so for this reason.

Bidirectional relationships suggest that substance abuse can, in turn, lead to even greater loneliness, for example, by damaging the relationships we have.

Poor self-care

Loneliness is more than just a feeling; it influences our actions regarding taking care of our health. It is associated with lower levels of physical activity, the risk of undernutrition, unintentional weight loss, disruptions in eating behavior, and poor adherence to treatment regimens in older individuals – symptoms that are often similar to depression. Thus, lonely individuals find it harder to motivate themselves to take care of their health.

Sleep disturbances

The lack of connection with other people can disrupt our sleep. A meta-analysis has identified a moderate association between loneliness and sleep disturbances in different age groups. Loneliness consistently correlates with sleep disturbances, both self-reported and objectively measured, reinforcing the close connection between loneliness and sleep problems.

Earlier, we wrote about six psychological theories that don't work.

We also talked about eight mistakes that hinder us from having a proper rest on weekends.