Why Is Social Isolation Dubbed The Silent Killer?

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Beware! Social Isolation Is Bad For You!

Previous studies suggest that social isolation is not only bad for health, but it is also a silent killer for humans and animals. Why is this so?

A group of researchers from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has surprising answers to this question.

The team finally found an explanation for the relationship between social isolation and health problems.

According to the team, they observed that in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, social isolation leads to sleep loss, which in turn leads to cellular stress and the activation of a defense mechanism called the unfolded protein response (UPR). When this happens, a defective UPR is notorious in causing age-related diseases.

Social isolation is a growing problem in developed countries. In the United States, about half of people older than 85 live alone. Socialization became impossible for these old people due to decreased mobility.

The Explanation

The UPR is found in virtually all animal species. Although its short-term activation helps protect cells from stress, chronic activation can harm cells. Long-term, harmful activation of the UPR is suspected as a contributor to the aging process and to specific age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

Aging when in tandem with social isolation can trigger health problems.

A lot of elderly people live alone, and so we suspect that stresses from the combination of aging and social isolation creates a double-whammy at the cellular and molecular level,” said senior author Nirinjini Naidoo, PhD, a research associate professor of Sleep Medicine.

Dr. Naidoo added, “If you have an age-related disruption of the UPR response, compounded by sleep disturbances, and then you add social isolation, that may be a very unhealthy cocktail.”

lonely old man.
A lonely old man.

The Study

The team of researchers used fruit flies as the subjects of the study.

While Dr. Marishka K. Brown, the co-author of the study, was evaluating the effects of aging on the UPR in fruit flies, she noticed that molecular markers of UPR activation were at higher levels in flies kept singly in vials, compared to same-aged flies kept in groups.

Ultimately, she realized that keeping animals isolated induces a cellular stress response and a higher level of UPR activation,” Naidoo said.

In addition, social isolation can disturb sleep, triggering UPR to be defective.

Naidoo explaied, “When you keep animals isolated, it basically induces a disturbance of sleep, which then gives rise to a cellular stress that in turn triggers the UPR.”

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.