Loneliness May Weaken Immune System
Long periods of feeling lonely have been been associated with mental and physical health problems. Now scientists believe that loneliness can actually alter a person's immune system in a way that makes them more susceptible to illness.
Researchers at the University of Chicago, University of California-Los Angeles and the University of California-Davis followed up on previous research that had found that older adults who said they experienced extreme loneliness had a 14 percent higher risk of suffering a premature death. Previous studies had also indicated that lonely people had greater inflammation and a weaker immune response, and that it may be linked with a mechanism called “conserved transcriptional response to adversity” (CTRA).
To confirm this research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists analyzed the gene expression in the white blood cells of 141 adults ages 50 to 68, and they found that people who said they were lonely had a greater gene expression in their white blood cells when compared to people who were not lonely.
Overall, the research suggested that loneliness can help facillitate a process that can impair the production of white blood cells and that can make the lonely at greater risk of developing chronic illnesses.