Saturday, October 06, 2007

All The Lonely People....Where Do They All Belong?

The Beatles knew something about isolation, even when surrounded by countless adoring fans. Scientists now know that the Beatles were also onto something in their assessment of Eleanor Rigby:

``All the lonely people, where do they all belong?''

Maybe they belong in a doctor’s office. Research by a team of University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine scientists shows increased risk of cancer, heart disease and infection among people without family ties or close friends.

The research is the first to trace the genetic sources of emotion through detection of small variations in DNA.
The objective of the research was to find out how genes and immune-system inflammation are linked to loneliness or isolation. Physical changes tied to social isolation put people at risk of death. Eleanor Rigby could live to a ripe old age if she were more social, or if she could get the right medication.
Stress generates a hormone called cortisol, and when the stress is constant, the cortisol level is elevated so long among lonely people that their bodies can’t even feel it. They are, in effect, in a ‘’cry wolf’’ syndrome. Or ‘’cry lone-wolf’’ syndrome, perhaps. It means the body gets so accustomed to the cortisol secretion that the chemical just doesn’t work right anymore. And the lonely person get more depressed because they get ill, and the cycle continues.
This means the body’s bacteria-fighting abiity and virus-invasion resistance decline. The research, using so-called DNA microarrays, enabled scientists to look at many genes at once and see the long-term effects of loneliness at the molecular level.
The reasons people avoid other people are legion, of course. I let myself get into a state of semi-isolation be being too devoted to one person. That person isolated herself because of a series of traumas dating from childhood. When we were together, we both felt more secure. When that person left my life, she had to immediately know that she had someone else to turn to or face even more serious depression and, most likely, illness brought on by diminished resistance.
Alone suddenly, after being so wrapped up in her needs day and night for more than three years, I was so alone that I had to either get very ill or find a way to be more social. Our bodies, without too many interruptions, are remarkably sensitive and informative. We just need to listen harder.
Maybe it’s a good time to pull out those Beatles CDs and have a little party.

Postscript: The corticosteroid hormones produced in the adrenal gland are generated to counter stress. Cortisol in particular increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system. It helps prepare the body for the flight-or-fight response to a crisis. Synthetic cortisol is called hydrocortisone, and doctors usually ask whether a patient has high blood pressure or diabetes before administering it.
I learned many things about cortisol and other hormones during the now-broken partnership. One was that cortisol, in addition to being closely linked to stress and especially to depression and hysteria, is also affected by a person’s waking and sleeping patterns. The normal diurnal rhythm of waking by day and sleeping by night can get really cockeyed in someone with an oversecretion of cortisol and get even more depressed early in the morning, then sleep during the day to overcome the sense of over-tiredness that comes after a stressful (panic) situation. Panic doesn’t have to be a car crash either. Depressed, isolated, lonely people can be whipped into a frenzy of crisis emotions by a bad dream, or even the thought of falling asleep and having a bad dream. This makes lonely people insomniacs too. It is not a pretty picture.
As with other hormones, cortisol is also affected by the category of medications called serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH in excess, or the opposite, can mess with the effectiveness of medications usually prescribed for depression, sleep-inducing medications, and medication prescribed for people subject to seizures. Women are more likely than men to have depression, panic disorder and immune system disorders. Therefore, unfortunately, most birth-control pills can also have a dangerous side effect when used in combination with the serotonin-reuptake inhibitors or the anti-depressants that are prescribed to put the body back on track. Side effects, apart from weakening of the immune system, are liver or kidney disorders, indigestion, and such things as bruising easily.
There are fairly simple warning signs of the feeling of loneliness, isolation and depression. And there are tests, hopefully to be enhanced by the results of research being done on cortisol, to enable doctors to help people adjust better to the world around them. Maybe partying isn’t the answer. But it is also certain that isolation isn’t the answer either.
Read more about how the brain deals with stress, and the consequences in terms of the body’s ability to fight illness, here:


Martyn said...

In this one, you're writing too her, not just about you. Do you think she'd understand it even if she read it? Do you think she even knows or cares? Maybe writing about this helps you see your own problem, but I seriously doubt that she will change, even if she knew what you're going through.

Alphawolf said...

For sure we all need somebody.

Emily said...

If I get this right, so when people say they are ``heart sick'' or have a broken heart after breaking up, it's not just a saying. Plus when we break up, we don't want to see anybody and it's hard to do anything except cry and feel more miserable. Damn!