Social stress unhealthy?

Research on the African grey parrot seems to indicate that this is the case. Researchers found shorter telomeres in animals living in social isolation than in those living with another of their kind.
Telomeres are located at the end of chromosomes. Every time the cells divide, the telomere shortens. This continues until the telomeres become too short: then the cells can no longer replicate. Not only cell division determines the length of the telomeres; stress is also a factor. When an individual experiences stress, telomere shortening accelerates. Not yet known was whether social stress also nfluences telomere length.

The study involved grey parrots. These are very social birds in the wild, but in captivity they are often housed alone. The investigators compared the telomeres of birds kept alone with birds housed with another of their kind. That older birds had shorter telomeres than younger birds is logical because the older animals have undergone more cell divisions. The more interesting comparison was between birds of similar ages living with or without companions. That birds housed alone had shorter telomeres suggests that social stress also influences telomere length. Research on humans seems to point in this direction as well: people experiencing severe social stress and those suffering losses had shorter telomeres.