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Healthy Aging

Loneliness Does Not Bode Well for Health

By Sheryl Kraft

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Perhaps it's the gray, rainy day; the realization that winter has finally struck and the 60 degree days are merely an anomaly rather than the rule. Or maybe it's the fact that for the past month, because of hubby's multiple surgeries and a lot of my own work, I've been holed up a bit more than normal. But lately, loneliness has been sharing my space with me.

So when I noticed a report on Reuters Health yesterday about lonely rats and how they're more prone to breast cancer, I was interested in what it had to say. When researchers at Yale University studied rats that were lonely and stressed-out, they found that, as opposed to rats living happily in a social group, the lonely rats had a three times higher risk of developing breast tumors than the others; moreover, the tumors in these rats were more deadly, being larger and more plentiful.

Stress. That's the culprit, they think. The stress of social isolation may be the trigger for ill health, according to the article. Many studies have already suggested a link between loneliness and its negative impact on human health. And stress has already been shown to trigger cancer-causing genes in humans.

What's interesting is that because of these findings, the scientists think it could could explain the earlier development of breast cancer in women who live in high-crime neighborhoods. The role of social network could be a big one in determining and protecting health.

Is being alone the same as that powerful feeling of loneliness, I wonder? I like being alone and am usually perfectly content when I am. But loneliness, I think, takes being alone to a whole other dimension. It's more than just craving company; it's unwanted solitude. And that's the time to stand up and take notice, and make sure it does not have a negative impact on your health.

P.S. If you're reading this, I truly hope you don't catch my loneliness. Yup, it turns out it can be contagious.

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I agree, Sheryl. There is a distinction between being alone and being lonely. Of course, too much time alone could lead to loneliness in my opinion. And different people need different levels of social interaction.

Lots of interesting points here. I wonder if researchers also looked at the diets of the women who lived in high crime neighborhoods and developed breast cancer earlier?

Meditation, massage, find ways to lower the stress are my conclusions. Also, join social groups that offer support as well as company. I hope you will find that the loneliness passes. Many of us feel that way in winter, I think.

My husband is nine years older than me. While he's charming and interesting now, I am acutely aware, as someone who cared for my elderly parents, that I may be faced with loneliness in the coming years and need to come up with ways of dealing with it ahead of time.

It makes me wonder how they know whether or not the rats are lonely. Do they sit in a corner of the cage and eat chocolate? Curl up in a little ball and wish they had a blankey?

In all seriousness, I think there's a difference between solitude and loneliness. I personally need a lot of alone time. But being alone doesn't mean I'm lonely. Some people who live in cities--surrounded by people--are the loneliest people I know. I think loneliness stems from feeling misunderstood and not so much from being alone.

I hate to think that I act like a rat. Or that a rat has anything in common with me. Just thinking about their beady eyes, their nasty grey/coarse hair makes me shudder.

i also find myself feeling a lot bluer in the wintertime and i agree with others that loneliness and solitude are very different. this study with rats makes sense and reiterates other scientific findings. have you read, "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers"? that book discusses stress and stress-related illness and shows how much humans need social contact...

I'm also interested in the distinction between loneliness and being alone. Personally, I thrive on some alone time. You can be lonely in a crowd of people. I'm also wondering how social media might play into modern loneliness. We're all so much more connected, but are we feeling more connected?

"...the stress of social isolation." It is, indeed, such a painful thing. It's far far different than "alone" time. One is nurturing, the other not.

I'd be interested in seeing research on introverts and extroverts and how they're affected by loneliness. I assume that we're all somewhere along a continuum of needing companionship, with even introverts getting lonely some time. But it would be fascinating to see the data.

i might as well put my two cents in. I am, have been, and not sure when this overwhelming feeling of being alone ever go away. Never , have i owned, had $,and allot of terrible things have happened over the yrs. that i am alone. I have Chronic Pain for almost 30 yrs. So i certainly understand isolation. Mornings are the worse and most tender,stiff,un rested and feel like a Mack Truck ran over me, that it takes hrs before i am able to function without extreme discomfort,that i need to go back to bed. I wake up 4-6 times a wk crying, for i hurt so much that i cannot function for hrs. I try, it's difficult. Dr's.,and many other profesionals they just don't get it and as a result, have thrown there hands up. Friends..What and who are they? And then, I wonder, what do i need to get up for, Except to feed the cat and even that at times can be chalenging, but that is one thing i always do. So grateful to have her. I am also at my worse in the morning and the pain remains all day,and everyday, some days are 10 being worse and i am mostly in the 7-8 range. So basically it's from head to toe, first thing in the morning,is at it's peak for then i am in withdrawl as well from Medication. And the pain remains 24/7, and basically that is what goes on in my life.

Hope i did not bore anyone.

While I love being alone, it does get to be too much. I also spent a year all by myself in Utah - that was bone-crushing loneliness.

I feel for you, my dear!

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