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How Loneliness Can Trigger Autoimmune Diseases like CIDP

Loneliness and social isolation has been associated with an increased risk for autoimmune diseases. This has important implications for people who suffer from CIDP.

By Shiraz Abbas

There’s lots of discussion on how autoimmune diseases like CIDP can lead to the cutting off of relations, or how it can have a negative impact on health in general. More recent research is showing how the absence of meaningful connections in life and loneliness can increase the likelihood of autoimmune diseases.

We know that social isolation and loneliness are associated with greater risk of early death. But we are also seeing how loneliness can increase the risk of autoimmune diseases as published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

Medical News Today summarizes the findings as follows:

Previously, the team found that people who were lonely had greater inflammation and a weaker immune response than those who were not lonely, suggesting loneliness may be associated with a mechanism known as “conserved transcriptional response to adversity” (CTRA).

CTRA is characterized by an increase in expression of genes that play a role in inflammation and a decrease in expression of genes involved in antiviral response.

Prof. Cacioppo and colleagues delved deeper in this latest study, analyzing the gene expression in leukocytes – white blood cells in the immune system that help stave off infection – of 141 adults aged 50-68 who were part of the Chicago Health, Aging and Social Relations Study.

Confirming their previous research, the team found that individuals who were lonely demonstrated greater CTRA gene expression in their white blood cells than non-lonely individuals.

However, they also found that loneliness predicted CTRA gene expression measured at least 1 year later, while CTRA gene expression predicted loneliness measured a year or more later. This indicates that leukocyte gene expression and loneliness work together to exacerbate each other over time.

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Similar findings were also seen in monkeys who were lonely and socially isolated:

The researchers also analyzed the gene expression in leukocytes of rhesus macaque monkeys, which they note are a highly social species. The monkeys were from the California National Primate Research Center – a center deemed high in perceived social isolation.

Not only did lonely monkeys demonstrate greater CTRA gene expression in their white blood cells, but they also had higher levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is involved in the “fight-or-flight” response to stress.

What seems to be the case here is that people who are lonely and socially isolated tend to see the world as a hostile and unforgiving place. This often triggers stress related fight-or-flight responses in the body which increase inflammation in the body thereby compromising its immune system.

If you have CIDP, you may want to consider if or how loneliness and social isolation may be affecting you. Some research has shown that strong relationships can have positive effects on your immune health.

Shiraz Abbas is the founder and manager of the CIDP Neuropathy Support Group. He is also one of the main community educators of IVIG therapy. He resides in Fresno, California. Shiraz can be contacted through our free CIDP advice service at 1-855-782-0574.

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