Loneliness Is Bad For You, And This Study May Help Explain Why

Scientists have long known that spending time with loved ones is good for our long-term health and may reduce our risk of cognitive decline, whereas loneliness is linked to high blood pressure, inflammation and a weakened immune system.

But why exactly does loneliness have such bad effects on our health and well-being?

One reason, according to a new study, may have to do with the way loneliness triggers cellular changes in our bodies that can make us more susceptible to viral infections.

“Feeling lonely means you are not in a socially affine environment but rather in a relatively hostile environment,” Dr. John Cacioppo, a professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago and a co-author of the study, told The Huffington Post in an email.

“In socially affine environments, protection against viral infections is especially important, whereas in hostile environments, protection against bacteria is important,” Cacioppo wrote. “The pattern of gene expression in the lonely [environment] decreases protection against viral infections and instead may increase protection against bacterial infections.”

In other words, as Live Science notes, the cellular changes that result in a shift toward protection against bacteria may come at the cost of the ability to protect against viral infections.

For the study, researchers analyzed the regulation of the leukocyte gene — which is involved in protecting the body against both bacteria and viruses — in 141 older adult humans over a five-year period, and in a separate group of rhesus macaque monkeys that displayed behavior indicative of social isolation.

The researchers noticed increased activity in genes that produce inflammation in the body and less activity in genes that help to fight off illness in the adults who were lonely and in the monkeys, The Telegraph reported.

In the monkeys, —> Read More