Alone in a sea of people

Social isolation is now seen as a new type of major risk factor for illness. For example, consider the study at the Ohio State University School of Medicine, which discovered that students who scored high on a loneliness assessment were more likely to have reduced levels of "natural killer cells," which help prevent the body from developing tumors.

Additional studies have tracked the health of people who experience loneliness. They found that heart disease, cancer, depression, tuberculosis, arthritis and problems during pregnancy all occur more in those with few social ties.

The incidence of coronary artery disease is lower in people who feel they have close, supportive emotional relationships.

A large California study by Berkman and Syme found that those who are single, widowed or divorced, those with few close friends or relatives, and those who tend not to join or participate in community organizations are two to five times more likely to die prematurely than those with more extensive social ties.

Death rates among socially isolated individuals in the Berkman and Syme study were higher for all types of disease. These higher illness and death rates were true for men and women, for old and young, for rich and poor and for people of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

Excerpted with permission, from: Life's OdysseyTM Resource Guide on Holistic Health, Human Solutions Inc., Houston.