Do our emotions affect our health? Clearly they have an impact. But current research is uncovering how much influence they really have. Scientists have found that people who describe themselves as chronically lonely are more likely to get sick and die young, and much of it has to do with their immune systems gone haywire.
The lonely person has a distinct pattern of genetic activity, almost all of it involving the immune system, a recent study shows. According to one of the lead authors, Steve W. Cole, a molecular biologist at the University of California Los Angeles, “What this study shows is that the biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most basic internal processes–the activity of our genes.” Previous studies have shown a correlation between loneliness and infections, high blood pressure, insomnia, cancer, and premature death, but this is the first study that has shown distinct genetic activity of social isolation.
The obvious question, then, is do these illnesses lead one to feel more isolated and thus lonely, or does loneliness lead to physiological changes? That’s what the authors of this study set to find out. They looked at all 22,000 genes of the human body to see where changes took place and found them to occur in a set of 200 genes, many involved in immune function.
This information is big. It is a groundbreaking study in an area that I believe is the future of human health and healing–the role of the mind in health and physiological function. Most forward thinking healers know that you cannot separate the mind from the body, but now we have concrete evidence, and this should hopefully open the doors to further investigation. I am certain that loneliness is just the tip of the iceberg–chronic guilt, resentment, and ingratitude must also have a tremendous impact on the human body; it’s just a matter of time before we find out how much so. The exciting news is that it must work in the opposite way as well. A strong social network, support, and a feeling of belonging must also enhance the health. And I’m certain that being in a state of gratitude has physical benefits well beyond what we can comprehend at the moment. So hats off to these innovative researchers for opening the doors to the future–I can’t wait to see what else is inside.