A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers from the University of Chicago has established that there is a direct link between loneliness and illness.
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Researchers already know there are hidden dangers in loneliness, but they have just been able to prove that it impacts negatively on human health and raises the risks of untimely death by 14%. The researchers say loneliness triggers cellular reactions that alter the way the body produces white blood cells.
University of Chicago psychologist and loneliness expert John Cacioppo together with Steven W. Cole of UCLA and John P. Capitanio of the California National Primate Research Center at the University of California, Davis, conducted a series of studies that establishes the links between social isolation and illnesses.
The research team carried out the experiment on humans and rhesus macaques, a social primate that lives a very social life.
The team was able to identify something they called “conserved transcriptional response to adversity” or CTRA – a situation whereby inflammation genes are increased and genes associated with antiviral responses are reduced; making lonely people to develop compromised immune responses.
To this end, the scientists analyzed the level of gene in leukocytes – the cells within the immune system which keeps the body from bacterial and viral invasions.
Ultimately, the researchers found that the leukocytes of macaques and humans who have been isolated from social life for so long affected their CTRA levels meaning that genes deployed for inflammations increased more in them and those involved in antiviral responses decreased dramatically.
Conclusively, the team of researchers were able to show that social isolation or loneliness causes fight-or-flight stress which signals the heightened production of unripe monocytes, causing the expression of inflammation genes and compromised antiviral responses.
Also, certain danger signals are activated in the brain when an individual suffers prolonged isolation, and this alters the ability of his body to produce white blood cells; and then the resultant change in levels of moncyte causes health risks already associated with loneliness.
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The researchers are not planning to commence on studies that show how the ill-effects of loneliness can be prevented in seniors and other isolated individuals.