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Social media use may increase inflammation over time: Study

IANS Jan 29, 2024

Spending more time on social media may increase your risk of inflammation over time, harming your mental health, according to a study.

The results published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research raise interesting questions about the nature of social media use and what might be driving a relationship that could be contributing to an alarming range of physical and mental health problems.

"The results showed that the amount of social media use -- assessed objectively by a screen-time app -- was not only associated with higher inflammation at a single time point but also increased levels of inflammation five weeks later," said lead author David Lee, Assistant Professor of communication in the University at Buffalo’s College of Arts and Sciences.

"This study adds to the growing amount of evidence pointing to the risks of spending too much time on social media and the domains that are being affected," Lee added.

Besides representing the body's response to injury and infection, explained as “acute inflammation", "chronic inflammation" gets elevated in response to common experiences such as stress, loneliness, diet, lack of exercise, and lack of sleep.

Chronic inflammation may not be visible in the manner of acute inflammation, but it's detectable in the blood by measuring levels of the biomarker C-reactive protein. Chronic inflammation and its long-term effects are linked to cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and mental health conditions.

In the study, Lee explored social media use, inflammation and possible links to depression.

"Social media use turns out to predict higher levels of inflammation subsequently."

Lee said that the study also assesses the effects of social media use, as measured objectively by a screen-time app rather than relying on participants' memory of how much time they spent on social media.

"Studies show that people may not always be accurate in remembering precisely how much time they spend on the various types of social media apps they use daily. This may be problematic if you're interested in understanding the effects of screen time on social media," says Lee.

"By using the screen time app, we are more confident about the relation between the amount of social media use and inflammation, which is also robust against any survey response errors or bias because it was obtained through the blood."

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