Loneliness Is Bad for Your Health

Loneliness Is Bad for Your Health, Study Suggests — Feeling lonely? New research suggests you might want to reach out. Not only is loneliness an unpleasant condition, it can harm the body's immune system.

The new study, presented Saturday (Jan. 19) here at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, reveals that people who are lonely experience more reactivation of latent viruses in their systems than the well-connected. Lonely people also are more likely than others to produce inflammatory compounds in response to stress, a factor implicated in heart disease and other chronic disorders.

"Both, in different ways, indicate that the immune system is a little out of whack," said study researcher Lisa Jaremka, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University College of Medicine.

The lonely body

Jaremka and her colleagues were interested in immune links to loneliness because feeling socially disconnected is associated with poor health and chronic disease. They recruited 200 female breast cancer survivors, average age 51, and 134 overweight, middle-age adults with no major health problems.

In the first study, the researchers analyzed the blood of the breast cancer survivors for antibodies against cytomegalovirus, a herpes virus. These common viruses can remain dormant and symptomless inside the body. Even when active, they may not cause symptoms, but they do trigger the immune system to produce antibodies, or protective proteins that help the immune system hunt down the rogue viruses. Higher antibody levels indicate higher levels of activated virus. The participants also filled out questionnaires about their loneliness and social connectedness.

The results revealed that the lonelier the participant, the higher the levels of cytomegalovirus antibodies in the blood.

"It's definitely indicating that the immune system is compromised in some way," Jaremka told LiveScience. "It's unable at that time, for whatever reason, in this case loneliness perhaps, to keep that virus under control."

In a second study, the researchers measured inflammatory proteins called cytokines in 144 of the breast cancer survivors as well as the healthy though overweight middle-age adults. The participants gave a blood sample and then were subjected to the stress of having to give an impromptu speech and do mental math in front of a panel of people in white lab coats. To up the anxiety, the panel gave the participants no encouragement.

"No matter what they say and no matter what jokes they crack, no matter how much they smile, the panel just stares at them, basically," Jaremka said.

The researchers also triggered the participants' immune systems with a harmless compound from bacterial cells before taking a second blood sample.

The lonelier the person, the higher the levels of cytokine interleukin-6 after the stressful speech. This cytokine is important for healing in the short term, because it promotes inflammation — think of the redness and swelling that accompanies a healing cut. However, when cytokines react too readily, inflammation can be harmful. Chronic inflammation has been linked to coronary heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and even suicide attempts.

Loneliness and stress

Researchers have long known that chronic stress has a similar inflammation-producing, immune-disrupting effect on the body. Loneliness, in fact, may act as its own source of chronic stress, Jaremka said. Earlier research shows that close and connected relationships are necessary to help people thrive; without them, people are under a constant stressful cloud of missing this crucial social connection.

People who are lonely also tend to react more strongly to negative events in their lives, Jaremka said. If lonely people experience daily life as more stressful, it may cause chronic stress, which in turn disrupts the immune system.

Solving the problem is harder than telling lonely hearts to go out and seek more close friends, Jaremka said — it's easier said than done. But if researchers can figure out how loneliness results in poor health, they may be able to come up with treatments that disrupt the links, in essence making loneliness less of a burden, at least physically.

The study shouldn't be seen as all doom and gloom, Jaremka said. The flip side is that those who feel close to friends and family can know that their health is likely getting a boost from those relationships. ( LiveScience.com )

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Dental Assistant Fired For Being 'Irresistible' Is 'Devastated'

Dental Assistant Fired For Being 'Irresistible' Is 'Devastated' - After working as a dental assistant for ten years, Melissa Nelson was fired for being too "irresistible" and a "threat" to her employer's marriage.

"I think it is completely wrong," Nelson said. "I think it is sending a message that men can do whatever they want in the work force."

On Friday, the all-male Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that James Knight, Nelson's boss, was within his legal rights when he fired her, affirming the decision of a lower court.


"We do think the Iowa Supreme Court got it completely right," said Stuart Cochrane, an attorney for James Knight. "Our position has always been Mrs. Nelson was never terminated because of her gender, she was terminated because of concerns her behavior was not appropriate in the workplace. She's an attractive lady. Dr. Knight found her behavior and dress to be inappropriate."

For Nelson, a 32-year-old married mother of two, the news of her firing and the rationale behind it came as a shock.

"I was very surprised after working so many years side by side I didn't have any idea that that would have crossed his mind," she said.

The two never had a sexual relationship or sought one, according to court documents, however in the final year and a half of Nelson's employment, Knight began to make comments about her clothing being too tight or distracting.

"Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing," the justices wrote.

Six months before Nelson was fired, she and her boss began exchanging text messages about work and personal matters, such as updates about each of their children's activities, the justices wrote.

The messages were mostly mundane, but Nelson recalled one text she received from her boss asking "how often she experienced an orgasm."

Nelson did not respond to the text and never indicated that she was uncomfortable with Knight's question, according to court documents.

Soon after, Knight's wife, Jeanne, who also works at the practice, found out about the text messaging and ordered her husband to fire Nelson.

The couple consulted with a senior pastor at their church and he agreed that Nelson should be terminated in order to protect their marriage, Cochrane said.

On Jan. 4, 2010, Nelson was summoned to a meeting with Knight while a pastor was present. Knight then read from a prepared statement telling Nelson she was fired.

"Dr. Knight felt like for the best interest of his marriage and the best interest of hers to end their employment relationship," Cochrane said.

Knight acknowledged in court documents that Nelson was good at her job and she, in turn, said she was generally treated with respect.

"I'm devastated. I really am," Nelson said.

When Nelson's husband tried to reason with Knight, the dentist told him he "feared he would have an affair with her down the road if he did not fire her."

Paige Fiedler, Nelson's attorney, said in a statement to ABC News affiliate KCRG that she was "appalled" by the ruling.

"We are appalled by the Court's ruling and its failure to understand the nature of gender bias.," she wrote.

"Although people act for a variety of reasons, it is very common for women to be targeted for discrimination because of their sexual attractiveness or supposed lack of sexual attractiveness. That is discrimination based on sex," Fiedler wrote. "Nearly every woman in Iowa understands this because we have experienced it for ourselves." ( abc news )

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Autism Risk May Be Revealed By Pitch Of Babies' Cries

Autism Risk May Be Revealed By Pitch Of Babies' Cries - The pitch of babies' cries may provide clues as to whether they are at risk for autism as early as 6 months old, a new study suggests.

The researchers recorded cries from 39 6-month old infants, 21 of whom were at risk for autism because they had an older sibling with the condition. The others were healthy babies with no family history of autism.


A computer-aided analysis showed the cries of babies at heightened risk for autism were higher and more variable in pitch than those of babies not at heightened risk for autism, the researchers said.
This result was only true when the cries were caused by pain, such as when a baby fell and bumped his or her head, said study researcher Stephen Sheinkopf, a researcher at researcher at Brown Alpert Medical School's Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, R.I.

But the differences in the autistic babies' cries could probably not be detected by most people using their ears alone, so this is not something parents should listen for, Sheinkopf said. "We don’t want parents to be anxiously listening to their babies' cries," he said.

By the time the children in the study were 3 years old, three of them were diagnosed as having autism. As babies, these three children had cries that were among the highest in pitch, the researchers said. They also had cries that sounded more tense, with more "background noise" picked up by the computer analysis.

The findings suggest babies' cries at 6 months might be used, along with other factors, to determine a baby's risk for autism early on, the researchers said.

If confirmed in future studies, this finding could allow researchers to identify children at risk for autism long before the typical behavior problems become apparent, Sheinkopf said. Previous studies had suggested that 1-year old children with autism make sounds and cries that are not typical, but no one had looked at children as young as six months.

"The earlier we can intervene, the more long-term changes we can make to the benefit of the child," Sheinkopf said.

However, because the study was small, further studies are needed to confirm the results.

The new findings, published in the October issue of the journal Autism Research, agree with those of earlier research suggesting babies' cries are related to brain development. A 2010 study found fussy, 1-month old babies are at increased risk for mental health problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Pass it on: Babies with autism may have differences in their cries that can be detected as early as 6 months of age. ( huffingtonpost.com )

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Inside the Lives of Kids With Progeria

Inside the Lives of Kids With Progeria - At times, Lindsay Ratcliffe is just like any other first grader, who loves ponies, Legos and running the bases at the T-Ball game in her hometown of Flat Rock, Mich.

But at 20 pounds and 36 inches, she is not an ordinary six-year-old. Lindsay has a rare and fatal disease called progeria -- comes from the Greek word for "prematurely old" -- which makes her body age eight to 10 times faster than normal children.

Only 68 children in the world currently have the condition, according to the Progeria Research Foundation. Children are born seemingly healthy, but start aging dramatically by the age of 2. On average, they die at 13.

"You see this vibrant 5-year-old and then you put her X-Rays up and it looks like someone of a senior age," said Dr. Heidi Labo, who is Lindsay's chiropractor and aunt.
At birth, Lindsay showed no signs of progeria. "The first thing I did, I counted her fingers. I counted her toes. I'm like, 'Ten fingers, ten toes, we're good,'" recalled her father, Joe Ratcliffe, who had just returned from serving in Iraq as a U.S. army cook.

After four months, Lindsay had gained little weight and her parents knew something was seriously wrong. Specialists ran tests for weeks for nearly every disease and syndrome before reaching the terrifying diagnosis of progeria. It was a disease the family had never heard of.

"What scared me the most was they told us, 'We don't know [much about progeria],'" said Joe Ratcliffe. "'You can go to a website and that is best source of information. You're going to have to teach the doctors what to do.'"

The Ratcliffes soon learned that progeria was the rarest of rare diseases, affecting only one in every 4-to-8 million births. It is caused by a mutation in a gene called LMNA, but is not hereditary.

"Kids with progeria occur out of blue. There's no family history, no warning, no reason to think that this might be getting ready to happen," said Dr. Francis Collins, the scientist who first discovered the gene and is now the director of the National Institutes of Health.

At the time of Lindsay's diagnosis, there was no known treatment for progeria and no cure, leaving the Ratcliffes to care for their beloved baby, whom they knew they would lose too soon.

"In the beginning it was a lot harder because Lindsay couldn't talk, she couldn't walk and she couldn't do everything for herself," Kristy told ABC's Barbara Walters. "Now, it's so easy because you see her and you smile. You can't help it."

They are determined to make every moment count. "Whether it's a birthday or going to the park, whatever you do, you look at it as unfortunately it could be the last time," her father said.

Six-Year-Old Lives in Body Older Than Her Grandmother's

Being a six-year-old in a body that is biologically older than that of her grandmother takes a toll. Lindsay's leg muscles hurt at school during recess, so every week she goes to the chiropractor for a checkup and adjustment.

"She's six years old and she runs and jumps but has the spine of 70 year-old," said Labo. "She feels aches and pains and isn't aware of what it is, but there is arthritis forming slowly throughout the spine."

For most of her life, Lindsay has been protected within a cocoon of love and empathy. But sometimes, the strangeness of her symptoms -- especially her tiny size -- strikes a brutal blow to her self-esteem. When the spunky little girl is mistaken for a two-year old, she instantly deflates and responds: "I'm not a baby."

"That'll of change the whole mood of her," Joe said. "You see her face and you see that for a brief moment the glow has gone out her eye."

Her mother tries to shield Lindsay from the constant stares. "I try to position myself so that she doesn't see it because I don't want it to hurt her as much as it hurts me," Kristy Ratcliffe said.

Three-Feet Tall and Fearless

As one of only eight girls in the U.S. who has progeria, it can be isolating for Lindsay. Amazingly, Kaylee Halko, 7, who has the same rare condition, lives an hour away in Monclova, Ohio. The two girls have become friends and because of progeria look strikingly similar. Kaylee is a confident, boisterous and fearless seven-year-old.

"[Kaylee] likes to say she's a star," her mother Marla Halko said.

The youngest of four children in the Halko brood, Kaylee -- at only three feet tall and weighing 24 pounds -- is noticeably different from her older brothers, but they have a close, loving relationship.

"We don't really think about her having a disease. We just think of her as a normal person," her eldest brother T.J., 12, said.

Kaylee loves to dance and is enrolled in a cheer dance class with regular kids. Despite worries about osteoporosis, a common symptom of progeria which makes her bones unusually brittle, Kaylee insists on riding the big yellow bus to school just like her brothers and millions of other kids across the country.

The pint-sized chatterbox told Walters that the main difference between them was their hair. "I have a bald head and you have hair," said Kaylee, who longs to grow curly hair and sometimes wears wigs.

"She's so happy and she has this condition and she just lives!" said her mother.

Finding a Cure for Progeria

All this optimism may seem oddly out of place, when Kaylee is unlikely to live to be a teenager. The life expectancy of most children with progeria is only 13. She is participating in one of two clinical drug trials aimed at developing a cure for progeria and takes several different medicines with the hope of slowing down the aging process.

"It is too early to tell if it working or not," said Marla Halko.

Lindsay is also enrolled in the drug trial along with 27 other children. She completed a part of this experimental program in 2009. Now, she and Kaylee have joined a second larger trial which includes 45 progeria patients from 24 different countries.

Another one of the participants is Hayley Okines of Great Britain; at 13-years-old she is one of the oldest surviving children with progeria in the world. Like Lindsay and Kaylee, she has the hallmark bald head, tiny stature and lives her life in the shadow of an ever-present threat.

"The first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning is whether today is going to be the day I lose her," said her mother Kerry Okines. "The only way I cope is by saying to myself that Hayley's going to be the one to prove the doctors all wrong."

Hayley and her parents have been hopeful ever since she joined the progeria drug trial, which is testing a pill originally developed for cancer, which could reverse the dramatic instability in her cells. She believes she sees small signs the pill is working.

"I've got eyebrows and I've got eyelashes and I've got hair on my arms," she said.

Despite progeria, Hayley sees herself as a person not a disease and has all the interests of an average pre-teen, including fashion, photography and a crush on pop-star Justin Bieber.

Parents Hope Not to Outlive Children

The Okines, the Ratcliffes and the Halkos hope that the ongoing clinic trials and research will unlock the secrets to their daughters' medical mystery and the process of normal aging.

"The evidence is growing, that the same glitch these kids have that causes them to produce a protein that makes their cells unable to keep dividing, that same protein is being produced by all of us," said Collins. "It looks as if this maybe part of a program that prevents humans from being immortal."

Every year, the three families raise money for the progeria research, typically through walk-a-thons.

Kaylee is very aware of the high cost of research and participating in clinic trials. She told Walters that she hopes "that I have thousands of dollars to buy my medicines."

The families all say there is no preparing yourself for the probability that you will outlive your child.

"It scares me. Not much scares me, but that does. Even thinking about it [scares me], so I generally don't allow myself to go there," said Joe Ratcliffe, who tattooed the Progeria Research Foundation's logo of a child's handprint and dove on his arm as a symbol of hope. "That's what we fight for. Without awareness we have nothing." ( abcnews.go.com )

READ MORE - Inside the Lives of Kids With Progeria

Flu Has Little to Do With Cold Weather

Flu Has Little to Do With Cold Weather - Although most children grow up hearing that they'll catch the flu if they play in the snow without a scarf, weather has very little to do with which regions get more flu, doctors say.

"It's actually not that predicable," said Dr. Jon Abramson, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina.


Mississippi has had the most reported cases of influenza-like illness in the United States so far this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even though Mississippi had an average temperature of 53.3 degrees this month, it is the only state in the country with a flu-like activity level of "high." Louisiana and Alabama are right behind it with moderate activity levels. Most other states -- with colder climates -- have had lower levels.

Abramson said the flu season tends to start in October and last through April, mostly coinciding with the school year rather than the temperature. He said studies have shown that the flu spreads mostly from school-age children, who often have poorer hygiene and catch the virus because they are in close contact with one another. Then, they pass it along to adults.

Weather becomes a contributing factor mostly because it forces children indoors, where they mix together and spread germs, said Allison Aiello, a professor and epidemiologist at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health.

Scarves, hats and gloves are useless if you come in contact with someone with the flu and either breath in their virus or touch a surface with the virus and touch your mouth, Aiello said.

"You can tell you mom it's OK for you to go outside with no hat on," she laughed, adding that even her own relatives remind her to put on a hat to avoid getting the flu. She said weather can perhaps make people more susceptible, but it can't give them the virus.

Since Sept. 30, about 2,400 influenza cases have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including 28 cases of H1N1. Despite its tropical temperatures, even Hawaii has reported flu cases this season.

Abramson said his North Carolina hospital has already had 25 influenza cases this season. In contrast, by the same time last year, the same hospital didn't have a single case.

"This is the South. It's fairly warm, so you wouldn't expect it this early," he said. "It doesn't seem to behave exactly by the coldness."

The flu can spread any time of year, Abramson said, citing this summer's swine flu outbreak. The H3N2V strain jumped from 29 to 145 cases in less than a week in August of this year, with most of them in Indiana and Ohio.

The best way for families to protect themselves is to encourage hand-washing and get vaccinated. ( ABC News )

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