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  • Writer's pictureKcal da Science Play

Profound Impact: Social Isolation, Loneliness and Health Risks

In an increasingly digitally connected world, paradoxically, many people face a growing sense of social isolation and loneliness. Recent research has highlighted the profound health implications of loneliness, and this often overlooked phenomenon should not be underestimated.

Social relationships are crucial to human well-being and play a vital role in maintaining health. Loneliness and social isolation reflect objective and subjective characteristics of impoverished social relationships, respectively. Social isolation is an objective condition characterized by the lack or limitation of social contact. While loneliness is a subjective feeling of anguish resulting from the mismatch between desired and real social relationships. Researchers have conducted considerable studies to understand the impact of social isolation and loneliness on health and mortality.



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Consequences of loneliness on health

Social isolation can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such aspoor diet and physical inactivity, increasing the risk of death. Additionally, it is associated with harmful biological processes, such as elevated levels of protein C- reactivity and blood lipids, and compromised immune function. On the other hand, loneliness can result in unhealthy behaviors, sleep disturbances, and neuroendocrine and immune dysfunction. Studies on the relationship between social isolation, loneliness and mortality have presented contradictory results, but meta-analyses indicate an increased risk of death associated with these factors.

Additionally, a lack of social support can create a vicious cycle, where poor health leads to a loss of support over time. However, despite many studies on the topic, experts have not yet conducted a systematic review of the association between social isolation, loneliness and the risk of death in specific populations, such as individuals with heart disease or cancer. This complex and crucial area of research continues to challenge experts as they seek to understand the complex interconnection between our social relationships, health and longevity.


Loneliness x Health in Literature

A recent comprehensive meta-analysis conducted on prospective cohort studies, which included more than 2 million individuals, identified consistent associations between social isolation, loneliness, and increased mortality rates. < /p>

The study A systematic review and meta-analysis of 90 cohort studies of social isolation, loneliness and mortality,published on June 19, 2023, in Revista Nature Human Behavior,investigated the relationship between social isolation, loneliness, and mortality outcomes in adults aged 18 and over, including studies in individuals with cardiovascular disease or cancer, and conducted a meta-analysis. In total, a total of 90 prospective cohort studies involving more than 2 million people were included.


Deadly Impact of Loneliness and Social Isolation

Overall, both social isolation and loneliness were associated with a significantly higher risk of all-cause mortality. Furthermore, an increase in the risk of death from cancer and cardiovascular diseases related to social isolation was identified. The data also suggests that social isolation can worsen the risk of death in people who already face negative health conditions. For example, individuals with breast cancer and social isolation had a higher risk of mortality.

These results emphasize the importance of recognizing social isolation and loneliness as risk factors for mortality. Addressing these factors can play a significant role in improving well-being and reducing the risk of death in our society. It is critical to consider strategies that promote social connection and support in our quest for a healthier, more resilient population. For example, in some scenarios, intense physical activity showed better results for symptoms of anxiety and depression when compared to conventional drug treatment associated or not with psychotherapy.


Main findings

The main points of the study were:

  1. Social isolation was associated with a 32% increase in the risk of all-cause mortality and a 24% increase in the risk of cancer mortality.

  2. Loneliness was associated with a 14% increase in the risk of all-cause mortality and a 9% increase in the risk of cancer mortality.

  3. For people with preexisting health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease or breast cancer, social isolation has been associated with an even higher risk of all-cause mortality and cancer-specific mortality.


TAKE HOME MESSAGE

These findings not only highlight the serious health implications of social isolation and loneliness, but also highlight the need to prioritize social health as a vital aspect of public health. The health risks associated with social isolation and loneliness are significant and cannot be ignored. So the question arises: how can we reduce social isolation and loneliness, especially among those with underlying health conditions?

The solution requires comprehensive, multidimensional strategies at a societal level. We need to foster communities that encourage social interactions and cultivate supportive relationships. We need to be aware of the health risks associated with social isolation and loneliness, and the conversation must be present in health assessments. Programs that facilitate social connections, such as community activities and support groups, can be particularly beneficial for individuals with underlying health conditions. For these people, promoting social connections can be a crucial aspect of disease management and potentially improves both quality of life and prognosis.


Clinical Practice

In a world where social isolation and loneliness are increasingly present, these findings serve as a stark reminder of the profound impact of our social experiences on our health. The complex interplay between social experiences and health outcomes remains an active area of research, with the hope that further investigation will reveal actionable insights to improve public health.

The evidence is clear: we need to face the health risks associated with social isolation and loneliness head-on. By promoting social connections and prioritizing social health, we can improve the well-being of our communities and potentially mitigate the risk of mortality among isolated and lonely individuals. The health of our communities depends not only on medical advances, but also on our ability to connect with each other.


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