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Social isolation linked to higher levels of inflammation – new study
Loneliness may change how our body responds to stress.
Some researchers suggest that loneliness and social isolation lead to poorer health because they increase inflammation. Inflammation is when your body tells your immune system to produce chemicals to fight off infection or injury. It can also occur when you experience psychological or social stress.
Short-term, local inflammation – such as when you accidentally cut your finger – can be helpful, but having slightly elevated long-term inflammation is associated with poor health. Researchers propose that loneliness and social isolation are linked to this elevated long-term inflammation.
In our latest study, we wanted to see if loneliness (the subjective state of feeling alone) and social isolation (the objective state of being alone) are linked to long-term inflammation. To do this, we searched for all published studies that looked at loneliness with inflammation or social isolation with inflammation. We found 14 studies that examined loneliness and 16 that examined social isolation.
Our analysis revealed that people who are more socially isolated have higher levels of two inflammatory chemicals: C-reactive protein and fibrinogen. C-reactive protein is commonly used as an indicator of inflammation and high levels are associated with poor health. Fibrinogen increases blood clotting and is higher when people have an injury or trauma. When people have long-term increased levels of these inflammatory markers, it can lead to an increased risk of poorer health over time.
An evolved response?
Social isolation could be linked to higher levels of inflammation for several reasons. It could be that social isolation leads to inflammation. We have evolved to be a social species, so being socially isolated could be a source of stress. And stress has a direct effect on the immune system.
It is also possible that we evolved to turn on our immune response when we are isolated. This is because when alone we could be at a greater risk of being injured. Our immune system may have learned to turn itself on to prepare for this greater risk.
It is also possible that inflammation leads to social isolation. People who are ill and have higher levels of inflammation can feel like they don't want to be around other people. This could be because we have evolved to want to isolate ourselves so we don't infect other people.
People who have lots of physical illnesses also have higher levels of inflammation. Those people who have lots of physical illnesses are sometimes not as able to get around and could become socially isolated because of this.
The evidence linking loneliness with inflammation was less convincing. We found some evidence that loneliness was linked to an inflammatory chemical called interleukin-6. But this was not a consistent finding and was based on only two studies. This suggests that there may not be a direct effect of loneliness on inflammation. Instead, loneliness may change how our body responds to stress. There is research showing that lonely people are more likely to have an enhanced inflammatory response to stress.
Our study provides some evidence of a link between social isolation and inflammation. But we think that the link between loneliness and social isolation with poor health is a lot more complex than inflammation.
To best understand how loneliness and social isolation influence health we need to examine a range of biological, psychological and social risk factors, such as blood pressure, mental health, income and social support, as they are all associated with increased inflammation.
To best understand how loneliness and social isolation affect health we may need to think about a bigger picture beyond inflammation. This study provides us with a useful first step in understanding part of this bigger picture.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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