Loneliness actually hurts us on a cellular level - Vox
In 2007, Cole and a team of researchers at UCLA make a breakthrough in a small 14-participant study. The very cells of people who lived through periods of chronic loneliness looked different.
More specifically, the white blood cells of people who suffered through chronic loneliness appeared to be stuck in a state of fear. Cole and his colleagues observed two main genetic differences between lonely and non-lonely people.
1) Genes that code for the body’s inflammation response are turned on to a degree not seen in non-lonely participants.
“There is a huge hidden epidemic of loneliness, and disenfranchisement from the human race”
Which isn’t good. “Inflammation is great at responding to acute injury, but if you have inflammation going chronically, it serves as a fertilizer for chronic diseases like atherosclerosis and cardio vascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and metastatic cancer,” he says. “That provides one reasonable biological explanation for why they might be at an increased risk for these diseases.”
2) “At the same time, in almost like a teeter-totter regulatory dynamic, we see down-regulated, or suppressed activity, in a block of genes involved in fending off against viral infections.” Those genes code for proteins known as type-1 interferons, which direct the immune system to kill viruses.
This is a bit of a head-scratcher. Increasing the body’s inflammation response in the face of stress makes sense. It’s protective in the short term. But why would our bodies become less willing to attack viruses?