People those who do not interact with others and prefer staying isolated are at higher risk of dying early when compared to other people who gel up very easily and have lot of friends, warns a new study. According to researchers, loneliness increases 14 percent chances of early mortality as it lowers the white blood cells count that eventually weakens the immune system.
Researchers from the University of Chicago conducted the study and found that low interaction and loneliness causes a fight-a-fight reaction in the body, due to this the body produces less number of white blood cells. White blood cell improves our immune system by fighting the diseases induced in the blood and when these cells are produced in less numbers then it weakens the immune system.
For the study, researchers examined the behaviour of leukocytes, a white blood colourless cell which circulates in the blood and body fluids and is involved in counteracting foreign substances and disease. The study authors analysed previous research that relates loneliness with a phenomenon called ‘conserved transcriptional response to adversity’ (CTRA) which describes a link between being lonely and lower immune system responses.
The current study found that CTRA gene expression could be traced even a year before immune system becomes weak due to loneliness. In addition, the interlink between low interaction, loneliness and weak immune system worsens over the time. To validate the theory, researchers conducted tests on primates. Researchers took the blood samples of people who suffered loneliness and were socially inactive and found that they had very high levels of monocytes — a large phagocytic white blood cell with a simple oval nucleus and clear, greyish cytoplasm. Monocytes are highly active against inflammation but have very low levels of antiviral gene expression.
“Taken together, these findings support a mechanistic model in which loneliness results in fight-or-flight stress signalling, which increases the production of immature monocytes, leading to up-regulation of inflammatory genes and impaired anti-viral responses,” Professor John Cacioppo said in a news release. “The ‘danger signals’ activated in the brain by loneliness ultimately affect the production of white blood cells,” Cacioppo said. “The resulting shift in monocyte output may both propagate loneliness and contribute to its associated health risks.”
The study appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.