Public health physicians have revealed that people who live alone are at higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and other ailments.
Medical experts said loneliness can increase the risk of depression, sleep problems, and other poor health outcomes.
According to them, loneliness releases excess stress hormones, causing an elevated heart rate, and increased blood pressure and blood sugar levels, which are all classified under cardiovascular diseases.
The World Health Organisation described cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) as a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels.
Global health lamented that CVDs are the leading cause of death globally.
WHO noted that an estimated 17.9 million people died from CVDs in 2019, representing 32% of all global deaths, adding that of these deaths, 85% were due to heart attack and stroke.
Speaking with Reportr Door HealthWise, a professor of Public Health at the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Professor Tanimola Akande and a Public Health Physician, Dr. Timothy Olusegun, said loneliness also reduces the number of antibodies produced to fight infection, noting that this may make the body more susceptible to cancer.
Prof. Akande said loneliness can complicate mental illnesses, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
According to him, inactivity caused by loneliness tends to make the individual hypertensive and not burn carbohydrates from food and, therefore, tend to be obese with the complications that arise from this.
The public health professor noted that loneliness can also lead to a sedentary lifestyle.
“Loneliness means such a person stays long without interacting with other people, and this gives room for inactivity, little or no social interactions, and giving room for diseases that particularly affect the mental health of such individuals
“Loneliness can lead to diseases like cardiovascular (heart disease and stroke), diabetes and mental health challenges like depression and anxiety, drug addiction, suicidal tendencies, and dementia.
“A lonely person is often inactive and devotes too much time to deep negative or unproductive thoughts. Loneliness may also be a symptom of a disease like depression, where the individual does not want to mix with others.”
On claims that lonely people always experience cold, the public health physician said, “This is not always the case, but lonely people who stay indoors in cold or moist environments tend to have symptoms of cold like running nose.
“People who stay alone need to realise the health implications and stop the practice. People who observe that some individuals are lonely can also help by advising them to interact often with people and to also find time to keep them company.”
Dr. Olusegun, on his part, said lonely people release more cortisol and that too much of the hormone causes inflammation and diseases.
The public health physician noted that social isolation and loneliness can increase the likelihood of mortality by up to 30 per cent.
He stressed that people who are isolated and lonely have been known to engage in activities that can worsen their health.
“This is a serious health concern because loneliness affects everything; every aspect of health and well-being
“When people are isolated and lonely, they tend to eat more, don’t work out and get sufficient sleep. Their health-related behaviours become worse.
“Study has also found that people who feel lonely may engage in more unhealthy behaviours compared with those that feel more socially connected.
“Adults who are lonely have a 40 per cent increased risk of developing dementia and other cognitive impairments,” he said.
Dr. Olusegun, further noted that lonely people may suffer chronic inflammation, which can lead to health problems like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer.
“Inflammation is part of how our immune systems kick into action to protect us against harm or disease or heal.
“Chronic inflammation is this process gone awry. The body continues to send distress signals even though there is no injury or danger. This type of chronic inflammation causes chronic health problems.”
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that loneliness can alter immune system cells in a way that increases susceptibility to illness.
The study led by a Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, John Cacioppo, and colleagues from the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of California-Davis, found that older adults who experience extreme loneliness are at 14 per cent greater risk for premature death.
The researchers, in carrying out the study, analyzed the gene expression in leukocytes – white blood cells in the immune system that help stave off infection – of 141 adults aged 50-68, who were part of the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study.
The team found that individuals who were lonely demonstrated greater CTRA gene expression in their white blood cells than non-lonely individuals.
They also found that loneliness predicted CTRA gene expression measured at least one year later, while CTRA gene expression predicted loneliness measured a year or more later.
This, according to them, indicates that leukocyte gene expression and loneliness work together to exacerbate each other over time.
The researchers also analysed the gene expression in leukocytes of rhesus macaque monkeys, which they note are a highly social species.
The monkeys were from the California National Primate Research Center – a centre deemed high in perceived social isolation.
Not only did lonely monkeys demonstrate greater CTRA gene expression in their white blood cells, they also had higher levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is involved in the “fight-or-flight” response to stress.
Also, another study reported by Medical News Today discovered that loneliness and social isolation are risk factors for all ages.
Psychologists from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, discovered in a meta-analysis that loneliness and social isolation better predict premature death among populations aged less than 65 years, despite older people being more likely to be lonely and having a higher mortality risk overall.
For the study, the researchers analysed data from 70 studies conducted between 1980 and 2014, featuring a total of over three million participants.
The data included information regarding loneliness, social isolation, and living alone.
After controlling for variables such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, and pre-existing health conditions, the researchers found that social isolation was linked to an increased risk of premature mortality.
Conversely, the presence of social relationships was found to have a positive influence on health.
The study did, however, utilise data from a narrow range of ages, with the majority of the data coming from older adults.
The authors acknowledged that less than a quarter of the studies analysed, involved people with an average age of 59 or younger, and only 9 per cent involved participants younger than 50.
The researchers, however, stated that the effects on physical health caused by loneliness and social isolation are comparable to those caused by obesity, with current evidence indicating that,“Heightened risk for mortality from a lack of social relationships is greater than that from obesity.”
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