The reason loneliness could be bad for your health


Fascinating article. First of all, according to a meta-analysis of 148 studies from last year, it seems that over the seven and a half year period studied, a gregarious person (someone who likes to be surrounded by other people) has a 50% greater chance of surviving than a lonely person. It’s not difficult to find environmental reasons that would explain this: the more people you know, on balance the more people can and will be willing to help you out when you need it, the more popular, happy and consequently healthy you’re liable to be, and so on.

What Steven Cole of UCLA has done, however, is to examine the messenger RNA in white blood cells, which tell the genes which proteins to make. It seems that the genes of the lonely were more active in helping to protect against bacteria, (inflammation is an antibacterial response) and the genes of the gregarious were more active in protecting against viruses.

What makes this so interesting is that viruses have to be picked up from someone who’s been infected, while bacteria are present in the environment. The implication is that our immunity gets adjusted to the dangers most likely to be presented by a person’s usual lifestyle. That’s why, according to the conclusions of the above meta-analysis, lonely people tend to have greater susceptibility to heart disease and certain cancers, which are associated with an inflammatory response.

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