Tag Archives: immune system

What Loneliness Does to Your Health

One of the myriad reasons workplace wellness is not performing well is that all humans have about 100 risk factors, of which obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are only four. If those four are in pretty good shape but the other 96 are out of whack, don’t expect good health results.

Further, putting bandages on symptoms of metabolic disease has limitations. Such bandages do not address the root causes of metabolic syndrome. According to Wiki, “Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving used for identifying the root causes of faults or problems. A factor is considered a root cause if removal thereof from the problem-fault sequence prevents the final undesirable event from recurring; whereas a causal factor is one that affects an event’s outcome but is not a root cause. Though removing a causal factor can benefit an outcome, it does not prevent its recurrence within certainty.” [Emphasis mine.]

One thing sorely missing from most modern wellness methods is RCA. Unless one deals with RCA in metabolic syndrome, it will continue to recur.

Some other huge health risks factors are job misery, terrible marriages, very poor money-handling skills, envy, general lack of contentment in life and loneliness. Another health risk is how far you live from a “dial-911 first responder.” Yet another is how safe your neighborhood is. I could go on and on. Worksite wellness does nothing to address the vast majority of personal health risks. My book, An Illustrated Guide to Personal Health, elaborates on such health risks.

This article will cover just one of those risks, loneliness, which among other things is a root cause of metabolic syndrome. (Let’s hope this information does not inspire true believers in wellness penalties to look for ways to charge lonely employees higher payroll deductions.)

Loneliness harms your immune system, makes you depressed, diminishes cognitive skills and can lead to heart disease, vascular disease, cancer and more. Loneliness is roughly the health risk equivalent of being a diabetic who smokes and drinks too much. Read on.

An article from the National Science Foundation explores the health hazards of loneliness. According to this article, “Research at Rush University has shown that older adults are more likely to develop dementia if they feel chronic loneliness.”

Moreover, John Cacioppo, neuroscience researcher of the University of Chicago, says of loneliness, “One of the things that surprised me was how important loneliness proved to be. It predicted morbidity. It predicted mortality. And that shocked me.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently wrote, “The combination of toxic effects [of loneliness] can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system and increase the risk for vascular, inflammatory and heart disease.”

According to studies in Europe, loneliness has about the same health risk as obesity.

An article in Caring.com says, “A 2010 Brigham Young University review of studies involving more than 300,000 people concluded that loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.

This is a headline in the U.K.’s Express: “Loneliness is as big a KILLER as diabetes.” The article describes how loneliness is like a deadly disease that decreases life expectancy and makes you more susceptible to cancer, heart disease and stroke. The study behind that conclusion was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Here are some personal observations:

Why do many people have so few friends as they age?

  • Maintaining long-term friendships takes a lot of work and investment of time.
  • Don’t let your career stand in the way. Don’t wait for someone to befriend you; reach out.
  • Some people have invested their time and energy solely in a spouse, who may predecease them by 25 years, or in children, who fly the nest in time.
  • Many people have invested much in work-related friendships, which, while genuine at the time, can wilt almost immediately when they retire or move on.
  • In friendships, one has to give more than he takes. Make yourself likable. Who wants to spend time with someone who complains all the time? People like that are often avoided by people around them.
  • Be a good listener.
  • If you’re lonely, try joining something…a place of worship, a book club, a hiking club, anything. In every community are places where everyone is welcome.

In the end, a true measure of your wealth is the number of lifelong friends you have. Having lifelong friends is a joy and a perfect cure for loneliness.

The Destructive Search for an Elixir of Life

For 3,500 or more years, mankind has been searching for the mythological elixir of life, the Fountain of Youth, the philosopher’s stone, pool of nectar, etc. that will defeat aging and extend life, if not achieve immortality.

According to Wiki, “The elixir of life, also known as the elixir of immortality and sometimes equated with the philosopher’s stone, is a mythical potion that, when drunk from a certain cup at a certain time, supposedly grants the drinker eternal life and/or eternal youth.”

All around the globe from 400 BC on, alchemists from India to China to Europe were seeking the elixir of life. Many thought gold was an essential ingredient.

The Fountain of Youth, also known as the water of life, was part of the search for the elixir of life. That search was in full throttle during the crusades and was carried to the New World by Spanish explorers, the most famous of whom was Ponce de Leon in the 1500s. Even the Mayans had legends about waters of eternal youth.

The search for the elixir of life didn’t end there.

In the 19th century in the U.S., many believed that bathing in special springs had healing powers. During that era, people flocked to eureka springs, hot springs, healing springs and many, many more. So-called healing spas are still very popular today.

“Snake oil” salesmen were peddling various cure-alls into the 20th century. A search on the Internet will reveal a large number of “promising” balms and salves, some of which actually worked for minor scrapes and burns.

If you’re over 60 or so, you may recall Carter’s Little Liver Pills. They were advertised to treat biliousness and other ailments. The FTC made the company drop the word “liver” from the name. Carter’s Little Pills are still sold, but as a laxative.

If you watched the Lawrence Welk show, you saw ads for Serutan, which is “natures” spelled backward. It’s a “vegetable hydrogel.”

Today, the search for an elixir of life, by various names, is still in high gear, and salesmen abound.

People still pursue the same goal of longer and healthier lives through a mix of vitamins, supplements, wellness, incentives, education, exams, tests, etc. that will push the time of their death out a few years.

But, alas, the human body and its organs simply wear out over time. No insurance plan, wellness plan, patient education program or prevention combination can defeat the inevitable. As we age, our bodies just wear out. For example, the reason brain aneurysms and strokes occur in the elderly is that blood vessels get thinner and more fragile with age. The same applies to other vascular diseases. Joint diseases are common as we age. Why? Joints just wear out over time. Dementia is usually related to aging. The list goes on and on.

According to NIH data, all cancer rates begin to skyrocket at about age 65. That is partially the effect of age-related diminishing immune systems. Our immune systems wear out as we age.

Companies are paying huge dollars to elixir of life promoters today, when all the facts show the elixirs just doesn’t work as advertised. Such companies’ intentions are good, even noble, but doomed to fail. Lesson: Whatever you seek, someone will find a way to sell it to you.

We are all going to have a mortal illness someday unless we die sooner from something like an auto accident. My grandfather died at age 99. Every organ in his body was failing. His kidneys were failing, as were his vascular system, his brain and his liver. Why? He simply outlived his body. I’ve known a number of good people who died a miserable death after years in nursing homes. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

Another factor driving up costs in the U.S. has been the creation of the emergency phone number system — dialing 911 and having a life-saving trained team show up at your door in a few minutes. The 911 system saves live, no doubt, but there have been unintended health cost consequences.

If one survives a heart attack, the average cost is about $250,000. Because of the 911 phone system, some 80-year-olds are surviving three heart attacks in nine months just to die from the fourth one, adding $750,000 of cost to their last 12 months. Now, healthcare providers are even putting ventricular assist devices in people like that to keep them alive for one more day. The cost for that procedure alone is $900,000.

I’m not making a comment on the morality of deferring an elderly person’s death for nine months at a cost of $750,000 to $2 million. But we need to have an adult conversation in America about how we are going to pay for all this. By any measurement, Medicare and Social Security are both totally unsustainable unless huge changes are made that will affect everyone. Beware of proposed changes that promote intergenerational rivalries.

This chart shows death rates by age). When people hit about age 50, the death and sickness rates begin to skyrocket.

This chart shows leading causes of death. See the strong correlation to aging and heart disease. People are simply outliving their hearts and blood vessels. In 1900, people rarely died of heart disease because they didn’t live long enough to develop chronic conditions. Most of the chronic diseases we worry about are simply a consequence of aging. They are irreversible. As with the Hydra of Greek mythology, if you defeat one chronic condition, three others will pop up.

The third chart shows health spending by age; again, disease correlates to aging. That will always be the case until someone comes up with a way to prevent aging or finds an “elixir of life.” That chart also illustrates the massive, wasteful spending on end-of-life care in the U.S. compared with peer countries.

People born in the U.S. today can expect to die along a bell curve centering on age 80. If we all do everything we can possibly do to be healthier for all of our lives, there will be slightly fewer deaths around ages 78 or 79. (A great source of information on this topic is Nortin Hadler’s The Last Well Person: How to Stay Well Despite the Health-Care System.)

In any case, if you are able to add a year to your life it will, obviously, be added to the end. For most people, that will mean another year in a nursing home, in assisted living or as an invalid at home. (For a Washington Post article on just how nasty nursing homes can be, click here. Again, I would not wish that on my worst enemy.) People sometimes tell me about someone who was more or less healthy and independent at age 90. For every person like that there are a hundred in nursing homes or dementia units.

Most people retiring today don’t have enough in savings to support themselves for more than a few years, let alone enough to pay for assisted living or nursing homes when they are elderly and frail. Medicaid nursing home budgets are likewise unsustainable. Don’t count on that. For many people, living a year or two longer will simply mean being a burden to your children for another year or two, both financially and emotionally.

What about your children’s lives? Do you really want them to have to look after you well into their 60s? At that age, they should be concentrating on their own welfare.

As people age into their 80s and 90s, many become demanding in an irrational way. Some people aged 55 and up are relieved when their elderly parents pass away, but often with feelings of guilt. Most people have witnessed this in their own families.

Someday, researchers may discover a way to delay the effects of aging. Personally, I believe such is the province of science fiction. If aging is ever reversed, God help us. That would be very destructive to mankind.

Imagine our world populated by a billion or more centenarians. Imagine a nation with an average age of 65. Imagine yourself at age 90 with a 120-year-old parent or two. Who will look after whom? Will 70-year-old children or their 45-year-old children be able to look after and support such parents, grandparents and great-grandparents? The news from Asia is that many young people are no longer willing to support their centenarian parents or grandparents today, let alone great-grandparents.

What should we all do then? Simple. Spend less time wringing your hands over which illness will get you in the end; rather, make the most of the time you have. Worry will never add a day to your life.

The Romans had a blessing: May you live well and die suddenly.