Loneliness actually hurts us on a cellular level

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“Humans are social animals” is a phrase often repeated by psychologists to sum up why we’ve been such a successful species. Our ability to live, work, and cooperate in groups is the key to our survival.

But it comes with a tradeoff. Companionship is an asset for human survival, but its mirror twin, isolation, can be toxic.

Loneliness is associated with higher blood pressure and heart disease — it literally breaks our hearts. A 2015 meta-review of 70 studies showed that loneliness increases the risk of your chance of dying by 26 percent. (Compare that to depression and anxiety, which is associated with a comparable 21 percent increase in mortality.)

Now researchers are trying to understand exactly how loneliness causes disease at the cellular level. And they’re finding that loneliness is far more than a psychological pain — it’s a biological wound that wreaks havoc on our cells.

 “Social isolation is far and away the strongest social risk factor out there,” Steve Cole, a genetics researcher at the University of California Los Angeles, tells me. Or, as John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago psychologist who frequently collaborates with Cole on loneliness studies, has said, “The level of toxicity from loneliness is stunning.”
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