Can social isolation increase my risk for disease?

Sarah LoBisco
Integrative Medicine

Social isolation has been linked to overall mortality, risk for cardiovascular disease, depression, and even immune health. For example, a 2009 study by the University of Chicago Medicine demonstrated in mice studies that social isolation increased breast cancer cell growth. Furthermore, caretakers of those with chronic diseases who are isolated have an increased risk for various diseases. These negative health effects of isolation could be for a variety of reasons.

Being connected to others causes a release of the feel good hormone oxytocin and the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. These powerful chemical signaling molecules have an impact on healthy lifestyle choices, weight maintenance, addiction and emotional health, pain relief, and hormonal balance.

Many researchers who have studied this effect using "blue zones", indigenous cultures that have many centurions (those who live beyond one hundred years old). They have found the consistent factor of people preserving important social networks to be one reason for their long lifespan.

Furthermore, some social researchers (Taylor) have shown that women who reach out to others enhance their capacity to modulate stress hormones in a healthier way. Specifically, they have a more positive response to the stress release of cortisol and insulin, which effects inflammation and blood sugar.

Human beings are social animals. We thrive on spending time with others, relating to others, and feeling close to others. Those we interact with closely and feel intimate with do not have to be large in numbers. Yet, we must, in order to achieve happiness in life, must have at least a few people in our lives who we can spend time with, discuss our lives with, feeling a sense of belonging with, and feel we can rely on through all times which can include those that are good and those that are not so good. Support is vital for us to thrive through all of life's challenges. For physical and mental well-being humans must connect to one another.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.