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  1. The potentially harmful effects of loneliness and social isolation on health and longevity, especially among older adults, are well established. For example, in 2013 I reported on research finding that loneliness can impair health by raising levels of stress hormones and inflammation, which in turn can increase the risk of heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, dementia and even suicide attempts. Among older people who reported they felt left out, isolated or lacked companionship, the ability to perform daily activities like bathing, grooming and preparing meals declined and deaths increased over a six-year study period relative to people who reported none of these feelings. Writing for The New York Times’s department The Upshot last December, Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a physician and researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, cited evidence for disrupted sleep, abnormal immune responses and accelerated cognitive decline among socially isolated individuals, which he called “a growing epidemic.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/well/mind/how-loneliness-affects-our-health.html
  2. Your sniffles may feel worse if you're lonely. A study published Thursday in Health Psychology found that among people who fell ill after being exposed to a cold virus, those who were lonely were more likely to report severe runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and other symptoms. That adds to the evidence linking loneliness to more serious health problems including heart disease and early death. There's been much less research on whether loneliness is correlated with common, acute, short-term illnesses like colds, says Angie LeRoy, an author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Houston who is also affiliated with Rice University. To conduct the experiment, LeRoy and her fellow researchers recruited people 18 to 55 years old who agreed to undergo some psychological screening tests, to be exposed to the common cold virus via nose drops and then to be quarantined in a hotel for five days. (Participants were also paid $1,060, which may explain why anyone agreed to do it.) At the beginning of the study, the 159 participants were scored on a scale indicating their level of loneliness and another one indicating their level of social isolation, as measured by the size and diversity of their social networks. Those who were lonely were no more likely to fall ill with a cold after they were exposed to the virus. But, among those who did become ill, those who were lonely were almost 39 percent more likely to report higher-severity symptoms than those who were less lonely, says LeRoy. The researchers purposely measured subjective reports of symptoms, since whether someone is feeling well is more likely to be the reason they would stay home from work or curtail normal activities than more objective symptoms like, um, the amount of mucus production. "Even something as simple as the common cold can be affected by how you're feeling beforehand," LeRoy says. The reason isn't clear, and she didn't want to speculate, but other research on loneliness has suggested multiple mechanisms, including effects on the immune system and behavioral factors. The study has some limitations. The researchers controlled for a host of variables, including age, marital status and depressive symptoms, but they couldn't control for everything. Some other factor, such as sleep quality or quantity, might have affected how people experienced cold symptoms. And the psychological assessment was conducted only at the beginning of the study, so researchers don't know whether the sense of loneliness fluctuated during the course of the cold and how that might relate to symptoms. There's also a difference between subjective indicators such as loneliness and objective ones like number of contacts or relationships. Although LeRoy found a link between loneliness and cold symptom severity, the size and diversity of a person's social network did not predict more severe cold symptoms. "You can be lonely and not isolated, and vice versa," says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, who wasn't involved with this study. She was an author of a 2015 analysis of existing research that found both types of indicators were significant predictors of early death, and neither was more predictive than the other. Most studies only measured one or the other, however. She says it's important that researchers figure out the proper target as people in the field work to translate the evidence into some kind of intervention that could help people live healthier and longer lives. "If you're trying to decrease loneliness, simply increasing social contacts may not help," says Holt-Lunstad. The quality of relationships is important, she says. LeRoy says that, while it's not yet clear how to intervene to help people who are lonely, the health care field should be assessing psychological symptoms as well as physical ones. LeRoy says she'd like to study older adults, who are more likely to be lonely, and are also more susceptible to the common cold. Katherine Hobson is a freelance health and science writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. She's on Twitter: @katherinehobson. http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/03/30/521927344/lonely-people-report-more-severe-cold-symptoms-study-finds
  3. Young people who spend a lot of time on social media — websites designed to bring people together — seem to be more isolated, new research suggests. Ironically, the researchers found that the heaviest users of social media had about twice the odds of feeling socially isolated compared to their less “web-connected” friends. The findings “remind us that social media is not a panacea for people who feel socially isolated,” said study lead author Dr. Brian Primack. He’s director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health. Primack said past research has suggested that people who use social media the most are especially isolated. But those studies have been small, he noted. The new study is the first analysis of social media use and so-called social isolation in a large group of people from across the United States, according to Primack. But, at least one social media expert said the study leaves too many questions unanswered to offer people any practical advice. The study included nearly 1,800 people aged 19 to 32. The participants completed a 20-minute online questionnaire in 2014. Half were female and 58 percent were white. More than one-third made at least $75,000 a year. The participants, who’d taken part in research before, received $15 each for the survey. Researchers asked questions about how isolated the participants felt and how often they used Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and Reddit. Those who used the services more often — either in terms of the number of times they used them or in total amount of time spent on them — were more likely to report feeling isolated from other people, the investigators found. “Compared with those in the lowest quarter for frequently checking social media, people in the top quarter were about three times as likely to have increased social isolation,” Primack said. Those who checked the least visited social media sites less than nine times a week. Those who checked the most visited social media sites 58 or more times a week, the study authors said. The average time spent on social media was 61 minutes a day. People who spent more than 121 minutes a day on social media had about twice the odds of feeling isolated than those spending less than 30 minutes a day on these sites, the findings showed. The authors noted that the study had limitations. One is that it wasn’t designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship. And, it’s not clear which came first — the social media use or the feelings of isolation, according to the researchers. In addition, the study only looked at people aged 32 and under, so the findings may not be the same in older people. Primack also pointed out that the study examined people’s use of social media as a whole, not specific sites. There’s no way to know if people who read glowing posts about their friends’ perfect vacations on Facebook are more or less isolated than those who prefer to watch YouTube videos of cats or bitterly argue about politics on Twitter. If there’s a link between social media use and isolation, what may be going on? “It may be that people who feel more socially isolated use a lot of social media to try to increase their social circles,” Primack suggested. “But both directions may be at work. People who feel socially isolated may reach out on social media to ‘self-medicate,’ but this may only serve to increase perceptions of social isolation,” he added. The findings suggest that people who feel isolated may generally be unable to find a connection through social media, Primack said. The answer may be going offline, he said. “A much more valuable and robust way to deal with perceived social isolation would probably be to nurture true in-person social relationships,” Primack said. “Of course, social media remains a potentially powerful tool to help leverage those relationships. However, it is probably not such a strong replacement in and of itself.” Anatoliy Gruzd is an associate professor at Ryerson University in Toronto who studies social media. Gruzd said the study is too limited and “cannot be reliably used to generate practical advice about isolation and social media use. There are still many unanswered questions and untested variables.” For example, “being active on Facebook may indicate one type of behavior, while being active on something like Snapchat might indicate a very different type of behavior,” he said. “The study also does not account for the level and type of participation in social media. For example, one can spend hours on Facebook just to browse pictures posted by others, while another person may be using the same amount of time to actively post and connect with others on Twitter,” Gruzd noted. The study was published in the March 6 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/feeling-lonely-social-media-may-have-something-to-do-with-it/
  4. Loneliness may make you sick. Researchers, writing in the journal Heart, pooled data from 23 studies and found that social isolation or feelings of loneliness were tied to an increased risk for coronary heart disease and stroke. The studies included data from 181,006 men and women 18 and older. There were 4,628 coronary events and 3,002 strokes in follow-up periods ranging from three to 21 years. Three of the papers measured loneliness, 18 looked at social isolation and two included both. Social isolation and loneliness were determined with questionnaires; the researchers depended on medical records and death certificates for determining coronary events and stroke. The scientists found that loneliness and social isolation increased the relative risk of having a heart attack, angina or a death from heart disease by 29 percent, and the risk of stroke by 32 percent. There were no differences between men and women. “People have tended to focus from a policy point of view at targeting lonely people to make them more connected,” said the lead author, Nicole K. Valtorta, a research fellow at the University of York in England. “Our study shows that if this is a risk factor, then we should be trying to prevent the risk factor in the first place.” The authors acknowledge that this was a review of observational studies and did not establish cause and effect. Link: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/04/19/loneliness-may-be-bad-for-your-heart/

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