Researchers are working on a pill for loneliness, as studies suggest the condition is worse than obesity
2019-08-12 from nationalpost.com
The volunteers at the University of Chicago’s Brain Dynamics Laboratory, all otherwise young and healthy, were tied together by really only one thing: nearly off-the-chart scores on the most widely used scale measuring loneliness.
Asked how often they felt they had no one they could turn to, how often they felt their relationships seemed superficial and forced, how often they felt alone, left out, isolated or no longer closer to anyone, the answer, almost always, was “always.”
The volunteers agreed to be randomly dosed over eight weeks with either pregnenolone, a hormone naturally produced by the body’s adrenal gland, or a placebo. Two hours after swallowing the assigned tablet, the university’s researchers captured and recorded their brain activity while the participants looked at pictures of emotional faces or neutral scenes.
Studies in animals suggest that a single injection of pregnenolone can reduce or “normalize” an exaggerated threat response in socially isolated lab mice, similar to the kind of hyper vigilance lonely people feel that makes them poor at reading other people’s intentions and feelings.
The researchers have every hope the drug will work in lonely human brains, too, although they insist the goal is not an attempt to cure loneliness with a pill.
Lead researcher and neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo has likened using a drug to rubbing frost from a windshield. Loneliness increases both a desire to connect with others, and a gut instinct for self-preservation (“if I let you get close to me, you’ll only hurt me, too”). People become more wary, cautious and self-centred. The idea is to help people see things as they are, “rather than being afraid of everyone,” Cacioppo said in an interview with Smithsonian.com.
For some, the idea of a pharmacological buffer against loneliness is just another sign of the creeping medicalization of everyday human woes: Wouldn’t a pill for loneliness only make us more indifferent, more disconnected? Is it really the best we can do to fix the modern world’s so-called epidemic of loneliness?
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