Loneliness hurts. Along with causing a spike in stress hormones, increasing instances of depression and raising the risk of suicide, loneliness has now been linked by a new study to the increased severity of symptoms of the common cold.
Researchers from several U.S. universities and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center monitored the cold symptoms of 213 healthy adults. Before participants were infected with the virus (they received nasal drops containing the leading cause of the common cold, rhinovirus), they completed a questionnaire about their social lives, moods and instances of loneliness.
While quarantined at a hotel, participants were asked to keep a log of their symptoms including sore throat, coughing, sneezing and runny nose. They also were asked to rate the severity of their symptoms on a five-point scale.
Of the group, 159 people developed colds and had consistent data.
After filtering out factors including gender, education, income, mood markers and the season, researchers found that people who had higher levels of loneliness on the questionnaires reported more severe cold symptoms. However, participants were no more likely to develop a cold than those who reported low levels of loneliness.
Further analysis of the participants' mucus showed that lonelier people were not in fact sicker but they felt worse than those with more vibrant social lives.
“Loneliness wasn’t necessary associated to how biologically ill they were in terms of the severity of their cold but it was associated with how severe they perceive their symptoms to be,” Angie Leroy, a Rice University professor and co-author of the study, told The Guardian Thursday.
In the study, which was published in the journal Health Psychology, the researchers suggested that helping lonely people establish stronger ties to others could reduce feelings of sickness and speed recovery.
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