The Link between Social Isolation and Inflammation: Dimensions, Measures and Mechanisms

Linda Waite, University of Chicago
Martha McClintock, University of Chicago
Erin York Cornwell, Cornell University
Lissa Patterson, Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center
Juyeon Kim, University of Chicago

Social isolation has been linked to poor mental and physical health and mortality, but we know little about the physiological processes that underlie this association. This paper examines one important potential pathway between social isolation and health. The stress response leads to short-run increases in blood pressure that may damage arterial walls in the long-run, leading to hypertension and inflammation. Inflammation is now thought to be a root cause of a number of diseases, especially cardiovascular disease. We use data from the 2005-2006 National Social Life, Health and Aging Study to model the effect of key dimensions of social isolation on systolic blood pressure and C-reactive Protein, a marker of inflammation. We also model effects of isolation through several measures of emotional well-being and through health behaviors, and assess gender differences in these relationships.

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Presented in Session 25: Biodemographic Influences on Health and Mortality