Last year we talked about a study which seemed to vindicate the “sigma male” meme, showing that “lone wolves” have higher testosterone levels than men who are “pack animals”.

But now a new study suggests that being a sigma male could have some disadvantages too.

The new study suggests that men who live alone for longer, as well as having more breakups, could be at higher risk of developing dangerous inflammation.

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Inflammation: an occupational hazard of the sigma male


Researchers in Denmark have discovered that men who experience more relationship breakups and live alone for longer have higher levels of inflammatory markers in their blood. Inflammation is associated with a whole array of short-term and chronic health conditions, suggesting that being alone presents a real risk to an individual’s health.

The team from the University of Copenhagen were building on previous studies that have examined the link between poor health and loneliness, for instance as a result of marriage breakups and the death of a spouse. These studies have shown that lonely people have a higher risk of poorer mental and physical health, reduced immunity levels, and even death.

The new study looked at health and relationship data of nearly 5000 men and women from the Copenhagen Aging and Midlife Biobank (CAMB) study.

These men and women were all between the ages of 48 and 62, and around two-thirds were men. Each person reported on the years they lived alone between 1986 and 2011, with researchers defining anything under one year alone being very common and normal.

They separated participants into groups living alone for between two and six years and those living alone for over seven years. Only 83 participants reported suffering a relationship breakup in the past due to the death of their partner.

After accounting for factors like age, educational background, weight, and medication history, the results showed that men with the most breakups had the highest levels of inflammation. Compared to people living alone for less than a year, men who broke up the most had 17% more inflammation.



Sigma and alpha are both ‘top dogs’, as it were. Both are what we might call ‘high testosterone’ individuals; but where they differ is in their relation to others. While the alpha male is the immediately identifiable leader of a pack, so to speak, the sigma male deliberately chooses to disengage from the pack and go his own way. This endows him with a mysterious, monkish aura that even the alpha cannot obtain.

The opposite of the sigma male: long-term soy consumption can make monkeys aggressive loners, in shocking study with human implications.

The exact origins of the sigma male meme are cloudy, but appear to date back to the early 2010s. Many of the memes take the form of ‘hustle’ memes – often dubbed the ‘sigma male grindset’ – that either parody or unironically take the motivational memes that are so common on Twitter and social media to absurd new heights.

In support of at least some of the less absurd aspects of the meme, a 2014 study from the journal Steroids (yes!) showed, in the case of mice, that social environment significantly determines the amount of testosterone that males produce.


Inflammatory markers were also 12% higher among participants who spent the longest time living alone.

The team considered two key blood markers: interleukin 6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP). The results showed that men with high levels of education who lived alone for two to six years had the highest levels of CRP in their blood. Meanwhile, men living alone for over seven years had the highest levels of IL-6.

Most interestingly of all, researchers found these warning signs only among men, not women. Why?

The study’s authors believe this is due, in part, to the way men and women react after a break up. Researchers claim men tend to externalize their behavior after a breakup, turning to habits such as drinking more alcohol. By contrast, women are said to internalize more after a breakup, experiencing more depressive symptoms.

The authors urge caution, though, due to the relatively small number of women in the study (1,499).

It is also possible that men exhibit a stronger inflammatory response than women of the same age. Chronic inflammation is believed to play a key role in the development of age-related diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

“Small numbers of breakups or years lived alone is not in itself a risk of poor health, but the combination of (many) years lived alone and several break-ups is in our study shown to affect both CRP and IL-6 levels significantly,” the researchers write in a media release.

“The levels of inflammation in our study are low, but they are also significant, clinically relevant, and most likely a risk factor for increased mortality,” the team continues.

“Since the number of one-person households has been increasing throughout the past 50–60 years in most high-income countries, this group of people going through relationship break-ups, or who are living on their own for different reasons, are part of at-risk groups.”

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