The Importance of Being Social


I am an introvert. I need some alone time to recharge. Large crowds and noisy venues can be overwhelming and drain my energy. I like my alone time, but not all the time. That is a lonely way to get through life. It is important to have a circle of friends and family to keep you grounded, to make you laugh, or to be there when times aren’t that great. As they say, it takes a village. Some studies have found that it can profoundly affect your health, as well.


Social isolation has been linked to biological changes in the body including weakened immune system, increased stress hormones, depression, and increased inflammatory markers. Experiences like rejection, conflict, and isolation can also increase systemic inflammation. This can put lonely, isolated people at an increased risk for cancer, acute illnesses, and chronic diseases related to inflammation like heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, and more.


Inflammation also appears to influence social behaviors. Inflammation itself can increase sensitivity in the neurons to negative social threats. The inflammation can lead the person to seek more social isolation and the social isolation leads to more inflammation. This creates a never-ending loop of depression and isolation. So, what can you do to break the cycle?


Start with your gut health. Since systemic inflammation has already been linked to gut health, it’s a good place to start. Eliminate processed foods from your diet and choose whole foods instead. Try an elimination diet. Gluten, eggs, and dairy are common foods that can create inflammation. Just because you are eliminating some foods, doesn't mean your choices are limited, too. There is a whole rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables out there. Try out a new recipe and invite friends or family over to enjoy it with you. Even if it is terrible, you can still have a good laugh and a memory to last a lifetime.


Create new healthy habits. Invite friends to share in these healthy habits. For instance, you could create a walking or yoga group, painting, movie or game nights, volunteer projects, or book clubs. Whatever you are into, invite others to participate with you. Find your village that supports and encourages the healthy you. Break the cycle of inflammation, stress, and isolation. Find your people; it could prolong your life!

Are you ready to PIVOT to functional health and wellness?


References:

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Cruces J, Venero C, Pereda-Pérez I, De la Fuente M. The effect of psychological stress and social isolation on neuroimmunoendocrine communication. Curr Pharm Des. 2014;20(29):4608-28. doi: 10.2174/1381612820666140130205822. PMID: 24588822.

Dai S, Mo Y, Wang Y, Xiang B, Liao Q, Zhou M, Li X, Li Y, Xiong W, Li G, Guo C, Zeng Z. Chronic Stress Promotes Cancer Development. Front Oncol. 2020 Aug 19;10:1492. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2020.01492. PMID: 32974180; PMCID: PMC7466429.

Eisenberger NI, Moieni M, Inagaki TK, Muscatell KA, Irwin MR. In Sickness and in Health: The Co-Regulation of Inflammation and Social Behavior. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Jan;42(1):242-253. doi: 10.1038/npp.2016.141. Epub 2016 Aug 2. PMID: 27480575; PMCID: PMC5143485.

Hawkley LC, Capitanio JP. Perceived social isolation, evolutionary fitness and health outcomes: a lifespan approach. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 May 26;370(1669):20140114. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0114. PMID: 25870400; PMCID: PMC4410380.

Leschak CJ, Eisenberger NI. Two Distinct Immune Pathways Linking Social Relationships With Health: Inflammatory and Antiviral Processes. Psychosom Med. 2019 Oct;81(8):711-719. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000685. PMID: 31600173; PMCID: PMC7025456.

Slavich GM, Irwin MR. From stress to inflammation and major depressive disorder: a social signal transduction theory of depression. Psychol Bull. 2014 May;140(3):774-815. doi: 10.1037/a0035302. Epub 2014 Jan 13. PMID: 24417575; PMCID: PMC4006295.

Zilioli S, Jiang Y. Endocrine and immunomodulatory effects of social isolation and loneliness across adulthood. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2021 Jun;128:105194. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2021.105194. Epub 2021 Mar 8. PMID: 33932766.

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