Only the Lonely Have Molecular Changes
September 17, 2007
(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Only the lonely may know the heartache you feel, but the source of that knowledge probably goes a lot deeper than you ever thought.
In the first study of its kind, researchers have identified a biological basis for loneliness. When investigators compared white blood cells taken from six older people who scored high on a test to measure loneliness with eight similarly aged people who scored low for the condition, they found the lonely people had genes that over-expressed inflammation and under-expressed antiviral responses and antibody production.
The result could help explain why previous studies have suggested lonely people are more likely to suffer from a range of health problems, from heart disease to cancer.
"What this study shows us," study author Steven Cole, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, was quoted as saying, "is that the biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most basic internal processes -- the activity of our genes."
The findings held true even after they were adjusted to take health status, age, weight, medication use, and even the size of a person's social network into account. Notes Dr. Cole, "We found that what counts at the level of gene expression is not how many people you know, it's how many you feel really close to over time."
The investigators plan more study to see if their loneliness-related genetic findings might one day be used to identify people who are lonely so they can be more effectively treated.
SOURCE: Genome Biology, published online Sept. 12, 2007
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