Julie Silver, a doctor at Harvard Medical School, discussed a study in the current issue of Psychology and Aging, that suggests loneliness might be a strong risk factor for blood hypertension.
The study conducted by Chicago-based researchers surveyed 229 men and women ages 50 to 68 about standard risk factors for hypertension and about their degree of social isolation. “Blood pressure was measured and correlated with the subjects’ answers about social interactions. The results were remarkable: the highest blood pressures were measured in the people who were most lonely. And loneliness was common: just over half were considered at least moderately lonely and 15% were ‘highly lonely.’ The link between social isolation and high blood pressure remained strong even when standard risk factors for hypertension were taken into account. “
As Silver admits, strong correlation cannot show that loneliness causes high blood pressure. It could be some third factor related to loneliness and blood pressure that is the critical link. For example, “lonely people might exercise less and eat a higher salt diet and that’s what raises blood pressure, not the social isolation.”
Nevertheless, Silver points out the growing list of negative health outcomes associated with loneliness: oneliness abnormal blood vessel response to stress; higher risk of cardiovascular disease; and an increased risk of death.
For the full article by Silver, and ideas of hers about how to become less lonely read here.
See article “The Science of Loneliness” (New Republic, Judith Shulevitz, May 2013)