Dr. Stephanie Cacioppo knows about loneliness.
She has spent much of her career as a neuroscientist who studies loneliness and what it does to the brain and the body.
And she spent the last nine months, felt the void in her life since her deceased husband and research partner, Dr John Cacioppo, died.
Loneliness and isolation are experiences shared by Dr. Cacioppo and countless other Americans, and scientists believe that it is a condition that not only hinders our happiness but our health.
The highlight of Dr's work However, Cacioppo can be a treatment for loneliness – a pill that can soothe brain activity, making us feel so anxiously isolated.
Because a loneliness epidemic increases the risk of dementia, diabetes and even death, scientists are working hard to come up with a pill that can reduce the harmful effects of isolation on the brain.
Heart disease may not be a literal disease, but loneliness is called an epidemic.
Almost half of Americans say they are some or all lonely lonely, by some measures.
People are social beings and the isolation that we feel emotionally also causes changes in the brain and the body.
Lonely people are more likely to develop diabetes and dementia, take destructive activities such as smoking and drinking instead of physical activity and also increase their risk of death.
The connection with dementia may have been explored more thoroughly than any other clinical link to loneliness. Changes in the brain that are related to isolation are likely to cause inflammation, which in turn promotes memory loss.
Loneliness also demands the heart – the so-called broken heart effect. The phenomenon contributes to the shocking 66 percent increased risk of death for a widow or widower in the first three months after the loss of a spouse.
After John suddenly died in his sleep at age 66, Dr. Cacioppo, a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at the University of Chicago, threw himself into challenging workouts, stubbornly and quickly stubbornly to feel something besides her loss – and the risk & # 39; s that caused it to fight for its own health.
She also threw herself into her work, researching what insulation does to the brain, and what she could do as a scientist.
The most promising answer from Dr. Cacioppo is surprisingly simple so far: pregnenolone, a steroid that our bodies naturally make.
Pregnenolone is a quiet key to the production of many hormones, including both estrogen and progesterone, and even the stress hormone, cortisol.
The involvement in these processes has attracted the attention of anti-aging researchers and those who study isolation – such as Dr. Cacioppo – right.
Behavior, emotions and tendencies of loneliness form an essential part of our primary response to a threat.
That reaction is directed by two areas of the brain – the amygdala and the insula – that inform the body of an imminent danger.
Researchers from the University of Michigan gave half of the anxious participants in a small study a derivative of pregnenolone and saw that the activity in their amygdalas and insuces was suppressed, compared to the activity of the brains in the placebo group.
Dr. John Cacioppo (left) and Dr Stephanie Cacioppo were not only spouses, but also research partners working on a drug addict before the sudden death of John last year
The participants said they also felt less anxious.
Although loneliness and anxiety are not identical, some of the same brain systems – particularly those with hypervigilance – are involved in both disorders.
Dr. Cacioppo has just completed a clinical trial in June in which 96 healthy, but lonely participants received 175 mg of pregnenolone, 400 mg of pregnenolone or a placebo and studied their brain activity.
She and her team are still analyzing the data collected from the study – a milestone in the next step of Dr. Cacioppo and her deceased husband undertook together.
In the meantime, pregnenolone is actually already commercially available, usually touted as an anti-aging and pro-memory supplement and sold for around $ 17 and $ 40.
It currently exists in a bit of straight limbo.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers it an acceptable (if not approved) supplement if it is an extract from the steroid – taken from an animal. Presently, pregnenolone is not on the FDA list of blood-blocking drugs.
But forms made in the laboratory, or synthetic, are considered unapproved drugs, and the FDA has warned at least one pharmacy that it can not use pregnenolone in compounds.
Determining whether the stuff in the bottle is legal or not can be almost impossible for a consumer.
Most varieties are sold as pregnenolone, with the steroid listed as the only active ingredient. If they are synthetic, this must be referred to as a variant of the word, but there is no guarantee that that label is correct.
Of course, even if the Dr. Cacioppo is a wild success, pregnenolone – synthetic, extracted or otherwise – will not really be a cure for loneliness.
But at a time when, paradoxically, our continual connection always makes us socially more isolated, pregnenolone could push our brain to pull back a little less, lay down our phones and be a little less alone.