We all know how bad smoking is, but researchers at Harvard University have found a link between blood clotting protein levels caused by loneliness, and are suggesting that having no friends is probably just as deadly as smoking, making you more susceptible to strokes and/or heart attacks.
Being alone and not socializing activates what is known as the “fight or flight” stress signal. This signal causes protein fibrinogen levels to go up in anticipation of injury and blood loss. This is not great for health, fatty deposits build up in the arteries thanks to too much fibrinogen.
The researchers at Harvard found a connection by comparing blood-clotting protein levels in people with varying amounts of friends and family, and found that fibrinogen levels were higher in those with less friends and a lack of social networking.
Those who only had 5 friends had 20% higher levels than those with 25 friends, so 10-12 fewer friends drastically diminished health, with the impact being as high as those who smoke.
Having few friends results in people feeling vulnerable and threatened, this then causes the flight or flight response to trigger in an ongoing and sometimes lethal dose.
Lead Author Dr David Kim said “Measurement of the whole social network can provide information about an individual’s cardiac risk that is not necessarily apparent to the individual herself.”
“Social connectedness displays a significant association with fibrinogen.
“If there is indeed an independent causal relationship between social isolation and fibrinogen and, subsequently, heart disease and stroke, then policies and interventions that improve social connectedness may have health effects even beyond the well-known benefits of improved economic conditions.”
The University of York also found that those who are lonely people, had a 30% higher chance of suffering from heart disease or stroke.
The reason was not clear and some of the researchers felt it was purely because less people were around to notice a person was ill or to motivate them to look after themselves and their health.
The lead researcher of the University of York Study continued:
“These findings are consistent with a growing body of research indicating that social relationships are important for health.
“Our recent review, based on self-reports of social relationships, found that individuals who felt lonely or who were socially isolated had on average a 30 per cent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease or having a stroke.
“It may be that some of the effect observed by the authors of the article is a result of people’s social relationships being affected by poor health. To build on this study, future studies are needed to investigate whether interventions that tackle social isolation have an effect on health.”
Oftentimes, we think that loneliness is a bigger issue for elderly people when in fact this study by the Mental Health Foundation shows that it was more often 18-35 year olds who felt lonelier, as opposed to those over 55 years of age.
The British Heart Foundations associate medical director, Dr Mike Knapton, said:
“BHF-funded research has already identified that social isolation can have a negative impact on your heart health.
“Using a new measure of social connectedness, this study identifies an association between how connected we are to our family and friends and our levels of a blood clotting protein, called fibrinogen, which can increase your risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke.
“We can’t conclude from this research that social isolation directly causes heart problems. But the possibility that social factors can affect a protein in our blood, like fibrinogen, is an interesting prospect for further research in this area.”
The Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological sciences journal have published the research.