Loneliness shares a close association with high blood pressure according to new research.
Researchers at the University of Chicago found that feeling lonely increases the blood pressure rate of individuals 50 years and older. The scientists examined the possibility that loneliness could bring on feelings of depression and stress, both of which are known to increase blood pressure levels.
The study examined 229 people between the ages of 50 and 68 and found that there was a connection between their blood pressure levels and need for companionship. While researchers were able to make a direct connection between the two, it still took a number of years before the correlation was noticed.
“The increase associated with loneliness wasn’t observable until two years into the study, but then continued to increase until four years later,” researcher Louise Hawkley said.
This link is independent of age as well as other factors which cause blood pressure such as smoking, demographic difference like income and race, alcohol and body mass index (BMI).
Dr. Hawkley concluded that individuals’ fears of not having social connections could play into their increased blood pressure levels.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of people yet who have done loneliness interventions to any great success. So even if we know that we should be doing something about it, to find somebody who’s effective at helping may be a challenge,” Dr. Hawkley says.
Researchers suspect that evolution may explain the link between loneliness and high blood pressure.
“Loneliness reflects a very fundamental need to feel connected,” Dr. Hawkley says.
“In evolutionary terms, you had to have the sense that you had your back covered. You traveled in groups, in tribes, in families. Anything to fend off threats from the environment… And that, I think, persists. We still need to feel like we belong, like we’re connected.”
Nutritional supplements such as potassium may help lower blood pressure.
The study appears in the March issue of the journal Psychology and Aging.
Source: University of Chicago