A new study linking loneliness with premature death suggests that loneliness may actually physically lower your immune system.
The study looked at 141 adults, 36 of whom were classified as chronically lonely and was published in the journal PNAS, found that loneliness may initiate cellular changes that can decrease a person’s ability to fight viral infections.
The researchers found that, in the chronically lonely people, the genes involved in inflammation and fighting bacterial infections were more active than the cells of people who were not chronically lonely. However, the cells also had a lower level of the genes involved in fighting viral infections.
Study author John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago said:
This gene expression is changing the body to be more likely to show an inflammatory response. This puts the organism in a state of preparation for bacterial infection however, compromises the body’s ability to fight potential viral infections. Basically, you’re more likely to get a virus if you’re lonely, I think.
In another experiment that was part of the same study, scientists discovered that the same was true in lonely macaque monkeys (how do you know if a monkey is lonely?) and have said they are planning to study how loneliness may lead to poor health and how it could be prevented in older people.