A Pill for Loneliness

Posted on January 22, 2019

Photo: pexels

One will experience loneliness with a lack of social connection, and social connection became essential for human, likewise in the same way that we need food and water. Despite that, we increasingly find ourselves isolated. A study suggests that culture-wide structural changes might be the factor of causing more Americans to be persistently lonely. More Americans started living alone, fewer of us are marrying or having children, causing our average household size to shrink. These changes represent various options available, where previously the only acceptable option was marriage and the nuclear family. These changes also mean that we are spending more time on our own. John Cacioppo, a neuroscientist who studied social pain, states that “Western societies have demoted human gregariousness from a necessity to an incidental,” in his book Loneliness.

The problem with chronic loneliness does not stop at making you feel terrible, but it’s also terrible for you. Loneliness increases our risk of developing a range of disorders which includes cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, cognitive decline, and metastatic cancer. It also weakens the immune system, making us more prone to getting infections. Loneliness is a universal part of the human experience, like depression and anxiety. However, loneliness has no recognized clinical form, such as no available diagnosis or treatment for feeling chronically isolated, unlike depression and anxiety.

According to Stephanie Cacioppo, director of the Brain Dynamics Lab at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, loneliness lead to having a mind perceiving social danger everywhere when we are interacting with others. Her study focused on a promising intervention: a neurosteroid called pregnenolone, which improves stress-related disorders and reduces the state of sensory sensitivity in the brain that increases when a person is exposed to social threats. Her aim of the study is to interfere with the way’s loneliness affects the brain and body and not to make people stop feeling lonely.

In Cacioppo’s study, she discovered that when mice are socially isolated, their levels of pregnenolone reduces, which occurs similarly in lonely humans. In a 2013 study, another research team had discovered a compound called allopregnanolone, derived from pregnanolone, had a calming effect on the participants’ brain region which is responsible for threat detection, emotional recall, and the anticipation of unpleasant reactions. The Cacioppos then started focusing on both pregnenolone and allopregnanolone with results shown from pre-clinical trials that the compound could counteract some of the loneliness-related biological changes in brain and well-tolerated in humans. Stephanie stated that “If we could successfully reduce the alarm system in the minds of lonely individuals, then we could have them reconnect, rather than withdraw from others.”

In her most recent study, researchers administered 400-milligram oral doses of pregnenolone to lonely yet healthy individuals. Although Stephanie and her research team are still analyzing the data, she is optimistic that the results will show significantly decreased perceived loneliness among the participant who received pregnenolone as compared to those who received a placebo.

Category(s):Social Isolation

Source material from Medium

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