A recent study suggested 'having no friends could be as deadly as smoking' after discovering a link between loneliness and the level of a blood-clotting protein which can cause heart attacks and stroke.
According to the researchers at the Harvard University, social isolation is known to activate the ‘fight or flight’ stress signal which increases levels of protein fibrinogen in anticipation of injury and blood loss. But too much fibrinogen is bad for health, raising blood pressure and causing the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries.
The study includes the comparison between levels of the blood-clotting protein with the numbers of friends and family in a person’s social network and found a striking correlation. Harvard researchers found as the number of social connections fell, the level of fibrinogen rose.
The Telegraph reported, the lead author Dr David Kim of Harvard Medical School, said that, “Measurement of the whole social network can provide information about an individual's cardiac risk that is not necessarily apparent to the individual herself.”
“Social connectedness displays a significant association with fibrinogen.”
“If there is indeed an independent causal relationship between social isolation and fibrinogen and, subsequently, heart disease and stroke, then policies and interventions that improve social connectedness may have health effects even beyond the well-known benefits of improved economic conditions.”
Adding to this, a study by the University of York found that lonely people are around 30 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke or heart disease.
Dr Nicole Valtorta who led the University of York research said that, “These findings are consistent with a growing body of research indicating that social relationships are important for health.”
“Our recent review, based on self-reports of social relationships, found that individuals who felt lonely or who were socially isolated had on average a 30 per cent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease or having a stroke.”
“It may be that some of the effect observed by the authors of the article is a result of people's social relationships being affected by poor health. To build on this study, future studies are needed to investigate whether interventions that tackle social isolation have an effect on health.”
Dr Mike Knapton, the associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said that, “BHF-funded research has already identified that social isolation can have a negative impact on your heart health.”
“Using a new measure of social connectedness, this study identifies an association between how connected we are to our family and friends and our levels of a blood clotting protein, called fibrinogen, which can increase your risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke.”
"We can't conclude from this research that social isolation directly causes heart problems. But the possibility that social factors can affect a protein in our blood, like fibrinogen, is an interesting prospect for further research in this area."
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