Does loneliness have a genetic cause?
New research from the University of Cambridge says it does.
The witty observer, Tom Wolfe, once remarked that “the surest cure for vanity is loneliness.” While the sentiment reveals utility for the vain, for the depressed vanity is the furthest thing from their mind while battling the depths of their despair. There are many reasons why one is lonely; researchers are now figuring out just what they are.
Of course, we know the varying situations that lead to self-imposed confinement. Bars are social places (good) but promote excess alcohol (not so good), creating a public space for the lonely. Social anxiety grips the sufferer; the notion of “getting out there and meeting people” can easily trigger a panic attack. Obesity is a major factor. That one, specifically, has aided a team from the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine in searching for a genetic cause of loneliness.
Their recent study, published in Nature Communications, investigates data from over 487,000 UK Biobank study participants in what might be the most wide-ranging research on the genetic causes of loneliness to date. The team, led by John Perry, a geneticist in the MRC Epidemiology Unit, discovered chemical markers that serve as potential gateways to loneliness.
As they write, roughly 25 percent of people in the UK over age 65 suffer from feeling alone. Loneliness is an integral factor in all-cause mortality, comparable to smoking and even more deadly than obesity. So they designed a study to address the chicken-or-egg nature of loneliness: do depressive symptoms and cognitive decline lead to social isolation or the reverse?
Since numerous questions regarding loneliness were included in the initial UK Biobank questionnaire, the researchers had a rich pool of data to pull from. The team identified 15 genetic variants associated with participation at fitness centers, pubs, and religious groups (the three social activities included in the survey). They continue:
These data highlight shared genetic architecture between loneliness and a range of complex traits, including a causal relationship (based on Mendelian randomisation) between body size and loneliness/depressive symptoms.
Obesity seems to be a main driver of loneliness. As Perry says, this too is a chicken-or-egg situation, though motivation plays an important role:
Perhaps if you are overweight, you feel self-conscious, which can lead to social withdrawal and depression, and on the flip side of the coin, once you get into a negative spiral of depression and loneliness, that could change your eating behaviors and how much you go out and exercise.
One variant is CADM2, which Perry says “modifies the perception of risk.” People with this variant are more inclined to participate in risky sports (a social endeavor), and hence, are less likely to experience loneliness. Of course, their risk of death increases, but that’s for another study.
Another variant, mostly seen in pub goers, is associated with alcohol dehydrogenase, the flush response some people (especially East Asians) experience while drinking. If you have this variant you’re less likely to drink; since alcohol is a depressant, you’re less likely to feel lonely (at least in relationship with drinking).
Perry knows this study isn’t offering solutions to loneliness, but it could lead to them, he says:
If this work can point to pathways that contribute to loneliness, we can ask if there is anything we can do about it. Perhaps one could target interventions in lonely people toward improving their cardio-metabolic health, which might have positive effects on their mental state and social isolation.
In his book, The Gene, Siddhartha Mukherjee writes that we’re now understanding “illness, identity, affinity, temperament, [and] preferences” on a genetic level. “Once we start thinking of genes as destiny, manifest,” he continues, “then it is inevitable to begin imagining the human genome as manifest destiny.”
Perry concludes that genetic traits are not necessarily destiny, however. Social isolation is complex, including numerous genetic and non-genetic factors, including family life, finances, and relationship status. But, as Mukherjee says in his remarkable book, knowing your genetic variants empowers you with the knowledge of what actions you should take to avoid distress and illness.
As the lonely know, their predicament can be crippling. A little knowledge goes a long way, yet, as Perry suggests, you have to take the steps to ensure you don’t wander into a destiny you never wanted. Interestingly, Perry and team note the relationship between loneliness and cardiovascular and metabolic health. One intervention we can count on is getting your heart rate up. Nothing beats the feelings after a good run.
The new version's battery has a shorter range and a price $4,000 lower than the previous starting price.
- Tesla's new version of the Model 3 costs $45,000 and can travel 260 miles on one charge.
- The Model 3 is the best-selling luxury car in the U.S.
- Tesla still has yet to introduce a fully self-driving car, even though it once offered the capability as an option to be installed at a future date.
"It's about having employees that are empowered."
Denmark may be the birthplace of the Lego tower, but its workplace hierarchy is the flattest in the world.
According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2018, the nation tops an index measuring "willingness to delegate authority" at work, beating 139 other countries.
We all know sleeping with your ex is a bad idea, or is it?
- In the first study of its kind, researchers have found sex with an ex didn't prevent people from getting over their relationship.
- Instead of feeling worse about their breakup after a hookup, the new singles who attempted sexual contact with their ex reported feeling better afterwards.
- The findings suggest that not every piece of relationship advice is to be taken at face value.
Want a happy, satisfying relationship? Psychologists say the best way is to learn to take a joke.
- New research looks at how partners' attitudes toward humor affects the overall quality of a relationship.
- Out of the three basic types of people, people who love to be laughed at made for better partners.
- Fine-tuning your sense of humor might be the secret to a healthy, happy, and committed relationship.
It's hard to imagine such a number. But these images will help you try.
The Mega Millions lottery just passed $1 billion for tonight's drawing.
What does that even look like, when represented by various currencies?
It takes just 6 numbers to win. You can only, however, purchase tickets up until 10:45 ET tonight.
Tiny and efficient, these biodegradable single cells show promise as a way to target hard-to-reach cancers.
- Scientists in Germany have found a potential improvement on the idea of bacteria delivering medicine.
- This kind of microtargeting could be useful in cancer treatments.
- The microswimmers are biodegradable and easy to produce.
Metin Sitti and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Germany recently demonstrated that tiny drugs could be attached to individual algae cells and that those algae cells could then be directed through body-like fluid by a magnetic field.
The results were recently published in Advanced Materials, and the paper as a whole offers up a striking portrait of precision and usefulness, perhaps loosely comparable in overall quality to recent work done by The Yale Quantum Institute. It begins by noting that medicine has been attached to bacteria cells before, but bacteria can multiply and end up causing more harm than good.
A potential solution to the problem seems to have been found in an algal cell: the intended object of delivery is given a different electrical charge than the algal cell, which helps attach the object to the cell. The movement of the algae was then tested in 2D and 3D. (The study calls this cell a 'microswimmer.') It would later be found that "3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers increased more than twofold compared to their 2D mean swimming speed." The study continues —
More interestingly, 3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers in the presence of a uniform magnetic field in the x-direction was approximately threefolds higher than their 2D mean swimming speed.
After the 2D and 3D speed of the algal was examined, it was then tested in something made to approximate human fluid, including what they call 'human tubal fluid' (think of the fallopian tubes), plasma, and blood. They then moved to test the compatibility of the microswimmer with cervical cancer cells, ovarian cancer cells, and healthy cells. They found that the microswimmer didn't follow the path of bacteria cells and create something toxic.
The next logical steps from the study include testing this inside a living organism in order to assess the safety of the procedure. Potential future research could include examining how effective this method of drug delivery could be in targeting "diseases in deep body locations," as in, the reproductive and gastrointestinal tracts.
Our modern-day Kafka on his new novel Lake Success and the dark comedy that in 2018 pretty much writes itself
- riding the Greyhounds of hell, from New York to El Paso
- the alternate reality of hedge fund traders
Here's why the school you went to is less relevant than ever.
- Learning agility is the ability to learn new things quickly and be aware of the trends that are emerging in your industry. It's the most important job skill hiring managers should be looking for and job seekers should be putting forward, says Kelly Palmer.
- Want to test your learning agility? Answer this practice interview question: "What did you learn last week?"
- Hiring people based on the school they went to is less relevant than ever. Why? Palmer explains: "If I asked you, "Tell me about your health," and you told me you ran a marathon 10 years ago, does that really tell me what your health is like? Not really." It's what you can offer now and how agile you are that matters.
- Kelly Palmer is the author of The Expertise Economy.
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