Loneliness is defined by mental health professionals as a gap between the level of connection you want with others and the level you have. In small doses, that feeling can be the necessary impulse to seek what is needed, just like when you are hungry or thirsty. However, in a chronic statecan have dire consequences for the individual.
The problems that can lead to ailments such as loneliness are not only translated on a mental scale, as might be expected. They also have effects on Physical Healthas has just been revealed by a study published in Aging-US that has analyzed the effects of psychological factors such as the feeling of loneliness or unhappiness on the premature aging.
Unlike chronological age, biological age it is a personal figure that each one configures based on their own genetics and their way of life. A person may be 60 years old on paper, but, thanks to his good habits, his biological age may be 55. Obviously, the relationship also works in reverse.
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In the study of aging, the effects that factors such as smoking have on the biological clock are well known. But little is said about how it affects mental health when it comes to speed up or slow down the mechanismdespite the fact that problems such as the aforementioned loneliness have been defined as “the pandemic of the 21st century”.
Well, a team of American and Chinese scientists has managed to shed some light on this matter. working in the lab Deep Longevityhave verified through blood tests and biometric data of nearly 20,000 adults how problems such as loneliness or unhappiness affect premature aging, in addition to measuring other variables such as illnesses and bad habits.
The acceleration of aging was detected, as expected, in people with heart, liver and lung conditions, but also in people with poor mental health. Actually yes to smoke added up over 1.25 years at biological age, the sum of psychological problems how loneliness, hopelessness and unhappiness contributed to accelerated aging over 1.65 years.
“Mental and psychosocial factors are some of the strongest predictors for talking about health and quality of life, but they have been forgotten largely because of modern medical care“, says Manuel Faria, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Stanford University specializing in health innovation.
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The results may seem surprising, but there are previous investigations that had already opted for this line. This is the case of a meta-analysis carried out by a team from Brigham Young University (Utah, USA) that compared the effects of loneliness and isolation with tobacco, in the face of having a higher risk of mortality. They concluded that these were comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, almost a pack.
The World Health Organization (WHO) itself collects the unwanted loneliness as one of the greatest risks for the deterioration of physical and mental health. According to the State Observatory of Unwanted Loneliness, more than two million people over the age of 65 live alone in Spain, a figure that is expected to rise to more than six million in the next decade.
For this reason, loneliness is postulated as one of the great problems to tackle, although it is still not very clear how it directly affects physical health. For example, a laboratory experiment showed that lonely people exposed to a cold virus they were more likely to develop symptoms than people who were not alone.
The explanation they found was that people in a situation of unwanted loneliness felt more vulnerable. Therefore, they perceived cold symptoms as more severe.
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Other research, carried out by professionals at Northeastern University (Boston, USA), traced a relationship between the interaction of negative psychological factors and DNA methylationa physiological process capable of modifying genes.
alter the DNA
Methylation itself is neither good nor bad, but there can be a problem if it falls halfway or goes further than it should. This would lead to serious changes, for example tumor-like. Apparently, according to the study, negative psychological factors yes they can alter DNA methylation of genes involved in chronic immune and inflammatory processes.
The data contrast with the results of the Memory and Aging Project at Rush University (Chicago, USA), which analyzed the brain tissues of older people who, in the last years of their lives, had been filling out questionnaires about their loneliness levels. Again, we return to the same problem.
Apparently, differences were found between the brains of those who felt lonely and those who didn’t. In the first they found more active some genes that promote the cancer cell proliferation.
Turhan Canli, professor of Integrative Neuroscience at the State University of New York and principal investigator of the project, explained in New York Times that the genes they found were associated with cancer, inflammation, heart disease, and cognitive function. “We found hundreds of genes that were expressed differently depending on how lonely these people were,” she explained.
However, the neuroscientist clarified that his research could not prove a causal relationship between the disease and the proliferation of those genes. Only they were more frequent in people who felt that way.