Loneliness not only takes a toll on men's mental well-being but may also affect their bone health, as revealed by a new study.
The study, led by Dr. Rebecca Mountain of the Maine Health Institute for Research, shed light on the adverse effects of social isolation on male bones.
It showed that women, in contrast, seem to be less susceptible to the bone-related consequences of social isolation.
The research garnered attention at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting, ENDO 2023, held in Chicago, Illinois, where Dr. Mountain presented her team's findings.
She emphasised the significance of social isolation as a formidable psychosocial stressor and a mounting public health concern, particularly among older adults. She noted that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly amplified the prevalence of loneliness and isolation, experts had expressed concerns about an escalating "epidemic of loneliness," as reported by SWNS.
Dr. Mountain further highlighted that social isolation not only increases the risk of various health conditions, including mental disorders, but also contributes to higher rates of illness and mortality overall. Furthermore, she elaborated on the established correlation between psychosocial stressors, mental health disorders and the heightened risk of osteoporosis and fractures, which disproportionately affect older adults.
However, the specific impact of social isolation on bone health had not been extensively investigated until now. To explore this, the study involved subjecting adult mice to either social isolation (one mouse per cage) or group housing (four mice per cage) for a duration of four weeks.
The results indicated significant deterioration in bone quality among the male mice that experienced social isolation, including reduced bone mineral density. Surprisingly, no such adverse effects were observed in the female mice.
The study's abstract elaborated on the observed differences, stating that isolated male mice displayed signs of reduced bone remodeling, including decreased numbers of osteoblasts (cells responsible for bone formation), as well as reduced expression of genes associated with both osteoblasts and osteoclasts (cells involved in bone resorption). On the other hand, isolated females exhibited increased expression of genes related to bone resorption, despite no changes in bone mass.
Dr. Mountain remarked, "Overall, our data suggest that social isolation has a dramatic negative effect on bone in male mice, but it may operate through different mechanisms or within a different time frame in female mice."
She further highlighted the necessity for future research to understand the applicability of these findings to human populations.
Dr. Mountain also underscored the critical insights provided by their work into the effects of isolation on bone health, particularly as society grapples with the long-term implications of increased social isolation stemming from the pandemic.