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Isolation and Inflammation

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D:        Good to see you back, Yaël. How are you feeling?

Y:        All better now, thanks. I didn’t think I’d be gone for so long, but that flu really knocked me out. Not only was I feeling miserable with all that coughing and fever, but being all by myself for so long wasn’t any fun either. And not great for my health—there’s research showing that social isolation is associated with increase inflammation in the body.

D:        How does that happen?

Y:        Researchers found that people who are isolated from others tend to have increased c-reactive protein present in their bodies, which is a protein that gets released into the bloodstream in the hours after a tissue injury. Inflammation occurs when the body senses there’s damaged tissue to repair, signaling to the immune system that it needs to heal and repair the tissue as well as guard against viruses and bacteria.

D:        So even if there’s no actual tissue damage or infection, when someone is socially isolated, the body reacts in a similar way.

Y:        That’s the idea. And if the inflammation goes on for too long, it can cause damage to healthy tissues, cells, and organs, which can increase a person’s risk of certain diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. Researchers also looked at whether loneliness has the same effect on the body and found that the link wasn’t as clear—while social isolation seems to directly impact the body’s inflammatory response, loneliness may change how the inflammatory response responds to stress.

D:        And here I was thinking that its people that stress me out.
coronavirus

When people contract COVID-19, the isolation they experience in quarantine can increase inflammation in the body. (NIAID, Wikimedia Commons)

When recovering from an illness, we often feel miserable from things like coughing and a high fever, but being all alone while we recover isn't any fun either. It's also not great for our health. There's research showing that social isolation is associated with increased inflammation in the body.

Researchers found that people who are isolated from others tend to have increased c-reactive protein present in their bodies, which is a protein that gets released into the bloodstream in the hours after a tissue injury. Inflammation occurs when the body senses there’s damaged tissue to repair, signaling to the immune system that it needs to heal and repair the tissue as well as guard against viruses and bacteria.

So even if there’s no actual tissue damage or infection, when someone is socially isolated, the body reacts in a similar way.

And if the inflammation goes on for too long, it can cause damage to healthy tissues, cells, and organs, which can increase a person’s risk of certain diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. Researchers also looked at whether loneliness has the same effect on the body and found that the link wasn’t as clear—while social isolation seems to directly impact the body’s inflammatory response, loneliness may change how the inflammatory response responds to stress.

Reviewer: Michael T. Treadway, Emory University.

 

 

 

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