Table of contents:
- Modern life brings people to the border of social isolation, which can become a breeding ground for health disorders. We have already learned how to treat social illnesses such as depression and anxiety, now scientists are looking for a cure that will protect us from loneliness
- Alone Overeating Epidemic
- A way out is found - pregnenolone
- The consequences of loneliness
- How not to fall into the web of isolation
Video: Scientists Are Developing A Pill For Loneliness - Research
2023 Author: Oswald Adamson | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 20:18
Modern life brings people to the border of social isolation, which can become a breeding ground for health disorders. We have already learned how to treat social illnesses such as depression and anxiety, now scientists are looking for a cure that will protect us from loneliness
Alone Overeating Epidemic
Social connections are the same primitive warning sign of self-preservation, like hunger or thirst, which constantly push a person to search for these primary resources of survival. Millions of years of evolution have turned us into beings who need communication as much as they need food.
But in the age of the digital revolution, we are increasingly isolated from society, which literally drags us into the pincers created by modern life. Everything else, combined with an insatiable love for high-calorie foods, the situation causes a real "epidemic of overeating alone."
Recent estimates show that between 22% and 75% of American adults are permanently single. The reason was a number of structural changes in the culture of behavior: more and more Americans are living alone, less likely to marry and have children. The average household size is shrinking, families are becoming multivariate, and until recently, the nuclear family was the only viable option.
These changes lead to the fact that we spend more time on our own. “Western societies have transformed human sociability from necessity into accident,” writes John Cacioppo, who has studied social pain for many years in his famous book, Loneliness.
The problem is, chronic loneliness not only makes you feel terrible. It increases the risk of developing a number of diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, leads to cognitive decline and even metastatic cancer
Social isolation also weakens the immune system, making us more susceptible to infections. Without preventive measures, even situational loneliness can go into a fixed state, which, in addition to psychosomatics, changes the structures and processes of the brain, according to Stephanie Cacioppo, director of the brain dynamics laboratory at the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago.
People sometimes compare social loss to physical pain, but Stephanie finds this analogy not entirely accurate. She, in fact, set up an experiment on herself, when after John's death she suffered for a long time, ran, forcing herself to almost freeze, until her muscles and lungs “screamed” with indignation.
“I learned the hard way,” she says, “that the physical pain associated with active running was less intense than the deep, emotional pain of losing the love of my life. In the future, social exercises that my husband and I developed together helped to drown out the suffering, for example, trying to express gratitude to others around, doing good for another and not expecting anything in return, choosing to communicate with strangers and sharing good news with others. I am living proof of the effectiveness of these scientific methods and I apply them every day. If you have a fixed sense of the value of life, if you see the future, you will feel less lonely,”Stephanie Cacioppo is sure.
This is less fantastic than it sounds. Clinical trials led by Stephanie Cacioppo helped to reveal not only how chronic loneliness changes the brain and has devastating consequences for the nervous system, but also how to deal with the disease. Prior to this experiment, there were no examples in the world of affordable diagnosis or treatment for feelings of chronic isolation.
A way out is found - pregnenolone
Scientists have concluded that, as a result of biological signals, loneliness causes us to turn to others, as our brain perceives isolation as a social danger.
Scientists in search of adequate treatment have focused on the promising effects of a neurosteroid called pregnenolone, which has been shown to improve stress-related disorders and to weaken the brain hypervisor that occurs when a person is exposed to social threats. As researcher Stephanie Cacioppo emphasizes, the goal is not to make people stop feeling lonely, but to counter the negative effects of social isolation on the brain and body.
Further, it should be said that at first, scientists were convinced of the action of the drug during experiments on mice. Experiments have shown that if mice are socially isolated, then the level of pregnenolone decreases, the same is observed in the body of lonely people. A study in a group of 31 healthy people found that oral administration of allopregnanolone, derived from pregnenolone, to humans had a calming effect on areas of the brain responsible for threat, emotional recall, and anticipation of unpleasant reactions.
A group of scientists led by Dr. Cacioppo focused research on pregnenolone and allopregnanolone after preclinical trials showed that the compound could counteract and tolerate biological changes in the brains of individuals. Some antidepressants have similar effects but have unwanted side effects, often causing drowsiness, nausea, and insomnia.
“If we can reduce the intensity of the alarms in the minds of lonely people, we can help them reunite,” says Dr. Cacioppo
The most recent study in which researchers administered 400 mg oral doses of pregnenolone to healthy lonely individuals provides strong evidence for solving the problem of loneliness. The drug treatment process lasted from May 2017 to June 2019. The researchers hope that the results of pregnenolone medication will show a significant reduction in perceived loneliness among this group of subjects, compared to those who received a placebo.
In 2016, the pharmacological treatment system already explored the possibility of providing people with the hormone oxytocin to combat chronic loneliness. The authors believe that the release of oxytocin in women associated with breastfeeding, childbirth and physical contact "promotes prosocial behavior and trust."
The consequences of loneliness
Meanwhile, Steve Cole, professor of medicine, psychiatry, and behavioral sciences at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine who collaborates with Cacioppo, is studying the effects of loneliness. He asked the important question: how susceptible is the body of a person in isolation to a variety of diseases?
“Beta blockers, previously developed heart medications, suppress the body's response to adrenaline. As such, they can be useful in turning off feelings of social threat and uncertainty,”says Professor Cole and continues:“Even if we cannot help single people with medication, we will still protect them from adverse health effects and many dangerous diseases ".
His research group is currently studying the effects of beta-blockers on people with cancer. These studies are important because stress has previously been shown to exacerbate the spread of disease.
There is every reason to believe that beta blockers can mitigate the devastating biological effects of loneliness
“Thirst is a signal that you are dehydrated, loneliness is a sign that you are suffering from a lack of social connections. Many of us manage to escape the web of loneliness on our own. But most people with similar problems could, with the help of pharmacological intervention, prevent a sinking into social isolation,”says Stephanie Cacioppo.
How not to fall into the web of isolation
The vast majority of people experience a sense of loneliness in their lives. And if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then you are not alone. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University who studies the phenomenon of social isolation, believes that it is more beneficial for many people to view social connections as an integral part of physical and emotional health, which can be improved through lifestyle adjustments.
The psychologist shares his own observations of the behavior of people in public places: “On a recent trip on the subway, I was thinking about what makes us lonely. While the train is racing, the subway car is silent. The woman in front is reading a book, and several passengers dozing. The rest are glued to gadgets: bent heads, headphones, subtle finger movements. What was once a period of contemplation, boredom, chatter, confrontation, perhaps even light flirting, has been replaced by smartphone screens.”
In addition to filling gaps these days, phones are becoming a crutch to “lean on when we are socially anxious or uncomfortable,” says Julia Bainbridge, freelance writer and editor. In 2016, she launched the Lonely Hour podcast, which explores this condition.
The world is unpredictable, but our screens provide a convenient buffer against the possibility of spontaneous human interaction. Instead of striking up a conversation with the person next to you and risking being awkward, it's easier to just stare at the screen.
Technology has freed us from the need to interact with other people. We can work from home, order groceries online, watch movies in bed
At the same time, the percentage of Americans participating in social groups - be they social clubs, sports teams, community centers, volunteer organizations, or religious groups - has dropped markedly.
Modern life seems to be designed to distract us from each other. “We are a drug society - a comfortably numb society,” says Bainbridge. In her own life, she sees loneliness not as a problem to be solved, but as a complex ambivalent state that adds depth to the experience of a social being in a fragmented world. And he is very enthusiastic about the fact that for many people, non-pharmacological strategies that can be relied on are still readily available.
Last spring was a particularly lonely time for social researcher Julia Bainbridge. She recently moved from New York, where she had many friends, to Atlanta, where she hardly knew anyone. And so she asked her mom to do her a favor by texting her every morning with a question or a random thought. The content of the messages mattered less than the act itself. It really helped. To this day, her mom still writes every morning.