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Loneliness has been documented as a major threat to your health. Among other negative effects, it can raise older adults’ risk of premature death by 14 percent, according to a 2014 University of Chicago study.
How perceived social isolation negatively impacts health is less understood, but new research is helping change that.
A study published online last week before it appeared in print in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences connects loneliness to the “fight-or-flight” response.
According to the University of Chicago, when loneliness triggers this response, it affects the production of white blood cells.
As an NPR story on the report explains:
In a life-threatening situation, norepinephrine cascades through the body and starts shutting down immune functions like viral defense, while ramping up the production of white blood cells called monocytes.
Lead study author Steve Cole, a professor in the UCLA School of Medicine, tells NPR:
“It’s this surge in these pro-inflammatory white blood cells that are highly adapted to defend against wounds, but at the expense of our defenses against viral diseases that come from close social contact with other people.”
Dr. Matthew W. Lorber, director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, was not involved with the study but tells CBS News that the research was fascinating to him:
“This study specifically showed loneliness causes a physiological reaction in people. …
“This is showing our social isolation is causing our body to sense certain kinds of danger. For human beings, social isolation is dangerous.”
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