Loneliness May Affect Genes
Certain Genes May Be More or Less Active in Lonely People, Raising Health Risks
Sept. 13, 2007 -- Scientists say they've found a genetic
"fingerprint" of loneliness that may partly explain why persistent
loneliness is unhealthy.
Don’t take the findings the wrong way. The researchers aren't saying that
genes doom some people to loneliness and destin others for rich
Rather, the new loneliness gene research shows that certain genes may be
more or less active in lonely people -- and that may dim the health of the
Don't have oodles of people in your buddy list? Don't worry. It's the
quality, not the quantity, of relationships that matters, according to the
They included Steve Cole, PhD, of the University of California at Los
Angeles (UCLA) David Geffen School of Medicine.
Lonely or Not?
Cole and colleagues studied DNA from 14 people aged 50-67 for five
Participants got yearly checkups and periodically completed surveys in which
they rated their social isolation.
The group included six people who consistently ranked at the top of the
loneliness scale and eight people who consistently ranked high for having
plenty of rewarding relationships.
Lonely or not, participants shared similar backgrounds. Cole's team also
considered their health history and other factors.
Compared with their socially connected peers, the lonely had overactive
genes that promote inflammation and cell growth. Lonely people also had
underactive genes that control inflammation and cells' life cycle.
Those genetic patterns may show why chronic loneliness has long been linked
to poorer health and
It might be possible to develop treatments to counteract those genetic risks
in lonely people, but larger studies are needed to confirm which comes first --
loneliness or shifts in gene activity -- and to study people who aren't at the
extremes of loneliness or social connection, Cole's team notes.
Their study appears in the online journal Genome Biology.
(When your soul is lonely does your body
feel sicker? Discuss it with others on WebMD's Health Café message