Lonely people, it seems, are at greater risk than gregarious individuals of developing illnesses associated with chronic inflammation, such as heart disease and certain cancers. According to a paper published last year in the Public Library of Science, Medicine, the effect on mortality of those with loneliness is comparable with those that smoke and drink. The combined results of 148 previous studies that followed 300,000 individuals over an average period of 7.5 years with controlled factors such as age and pre-existing illness, concluded that a gregarious person has a 50 percent better chance of surviving than a lonely one.
On a scientific level, Dr. Steven Cole of the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted a study of the white blood cells in both lonely and social people. By measuring the production of messenger RNA, the molecules that tell the white blood cells which protein to make, he found two functional group of genes in lonely people: one group less active and involved in fighting viral infections; and the other more active and involved in protecting against bacterial infections, thus causing an inflammation response.
Gregarious and lonely individuals generate the same level of RNA, but are regulated differently according to how socialable an individual is. Viral infections are transmitted from person-to-person, whereas, bacterial infections can thrive in just about any environment. Lonely individuals also have greater protection against bacterial infections, which causes them to have a higher relative risk to their health. When loneliness becomes chronic, the inflammatory response becomes chronic at the same time, thus one can develop illnesses associated with chronic inflammation.
With this knowledge, take a few minutes to call up a loved one or friend and plan an exciting outing together!