Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Loneliness Linked to High Blood Pressure

Loneliness in people older than 50 greatly increases the risk of high blood pressure, a study found. The loneliest people had readings up to 30 points higher than those who were not lonely, suggesting that loneliness can be as bad for the heart as being overweight or inactive, the researchers said.

"The magnitude of this association is quite stunning," said Louise Hawkley of the University of Chicago, the lead author.

With earlier research suggesting that more than 9 million Americans older than 50 often feel isolated or left out, the study could have substantial public health implications if it can be shown that reducing loneliness can lower blood pressure, said Richard Suzman of the National Institute on Aging, which helped fund the study.

The study of 229 Chicago area men and women age 50 to 68 appears in the March issue of the journal Psychology and Aging. Participants were asked on a 20-item questionnaire to rate the degree to which they lacked companionship.

The strongest link was in the 15 percent of participants who were very lonely. Their systolic blood pressure -- the upper number -- was 10 to 30 points higher than that of non-lonely people. The association held up when other risk factors were considered.

Smokers Tend to Get Colon Cancer Younger

People who smoke and drink should be screened for colon cancer earlier because they tend to contract the disease at a younger age than those who abstain, a study said yesterday.

Screening for colon cancer is generally recommended for anyone 50 or older, and 90 percent of cases occur after that age.

Men have a 1-in-17 chance of contracting the disease in their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society.

An analysis of 161,000 people with colon cancer found that those who had smoked and drunk alcohol in the previous year contracted the disease an average of eight years earlier than those who never smoked and never drank.

The average age of initial diagnosis was 62 for men who smoked and drank and 63 for women.

In the study, those who smoked but did not drink, or the reverse, developed the disease an average of five years earlier than abstainers, with female smokers particularly at risk of developing the disease earlier.

The study appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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