Keep happy, keep healthy?

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Although many scientists do no more than smile indulgently at some of the claims of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) which studies the relationship of mental states, such as stress, with physical well-being, recent trials are throwing up convincing results.

Researchers at the University of California examined the genes in white blood cells of six chronically lonely people and compared them with eight people who said they enjoyed a good social life. Social isolation is known to increase the risk of poor health and it was discovered that the lonely people had up-regulated genes with an inflammatory response – which can lead to diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes and cancer. They also experienced down-regulated genes with antiviral responses, while the socially active people enjoyed the reverse of these patterns.

The results have since been replicated on a group of 93 people and further studies are planned.

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