Background. Loneliness is usually defined as a distressing feeling that accompanies the perception that one’s social needs are not being met by meaningful relationships. Although it is often trivialized, it has recently been acknowledged as a public health issue. Moreover, the prevalence doubled in the last decade, expectably aggravated in the context of Covid19. However, the effects of loneliness on health and their mechanisms remain unknown and understudied. Aim. The aim of this study was to provide an integrative review analyzing the underlying mechanisms of the relationship between loneliness and health. Methods. A throughout review was conducted using Web of Science and Semantic Scholar as main databases using “loneliness”, “social support” and “health” as main keywords. Full-text articles published in English, Spanish and Portuguese were included in the study. Landmark articles previously cited in those articles were also included in the review. Results. An increasing number of well-conducted studies highlight the deleterious effect of loneliness in a wide range of health problems. Moreover, the negative impact of loneliness on health is comparable to well-established factors such as smoking for both men and women and after controlling for confounding variables. The effect of loneliness on health seems to be mainly mediated by the stress-response, suggesting the crucial role of lack of social support as a key stressor in humans. Furthermore, loneliness affects cognition impairing social and executive functions. Discussion. Implications for how to design loneliness-based interventions to improve public health policies and promote health are further discussed.
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