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Loneliness, ageing make a toxic combo

Social isolation and physical ageing may result in more stress hormones flowing through the body, says a research.

health and fitness Updated: Aug 18, 2007 16:13 IST

Social isolation and physical ageing can prove to be a toxic combination, resulting in more stress hormones flowing through the body, a new research has suggested.

University of Chicago psychologists Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo say that the toll of loneliness may be placid and unremarkable in early life, but may mount up with time.

The researchers, who reported their findings in the August issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, studied college-age individuals and adults aged 50 to 68.

After examination they found that the more years one lives, the more stressful situations one will experience -- such as new jobs, marriage and divorce, parenting, financial worries or illness.<b1>

When the psychologists looked at the lives of the middle-aged and old people in their study, they found that although the lonely ones reported the same number of stressful life events, they identified more sources of chronic stress and recalled more childhood adversity. Moreover, they differed in how they perceived their life experiences.

The researchers further report that even when faced with similar challenges, the lonelier people appeared more helpless and threatened. They were also less apt to actively seek help when stressed.

Hawkley and Cacioppo took urine samples from both the lonely and the more contented volunteers, and found that the lonely ones had more of the hormone epinephrine -- one of the body's "fight or flight" chemicals -- flowing thought their bodies.

The study also found that people who felt cut off, disconnected and alienated from others, not only experienced a mental impact, but a biological one as well - lonely people go through life in a heightened state of arousal.