Research Suggests Loneliness Is Bad For Your Health And Your Job

shutterstock_98105513It’s hard balancing a career and a social life; sure, you’d like to hit up a happy hour with all your gal pals after work, but you can only muster up the energy required to put on a Lifetime movie and order a burrito. But you may want to think again before flaking out on your friends for the nth time — new research suggests that loneliness can result in a weakened immune system and a greater sensitivity to pain.

In two related studies, researchers at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University College of Medicine recruited 200 female breast cancer survivors and 134 healthy though overweight, middle-age adults. The participants gave blood samples, were subjected to stress tests, and were asked to filled out questionnaires measuring perceptions of loneliness.

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, found that the loneliest overweight but healthy participants had higher levels of cytokine interleukin-6, an inflammatory protein, after engaging in a stressful task, such as giving an impromptu speech or doing mental math in front of a panel.  The loneliest breast cancer survivors had increased inflammation and experienced more pain. Researchers also used reactivation of latent herpes viruses as a measure of immune response. Survivors who indicated higher levels of loneliness experienced more herpes reactivation.

“Both [studies], in different ways, indicate that the immune system is a little out of whack,” researcher Lisa Jaremka told LiveScience. The study concluded that loneliness can act as a stressor and may well disrupt immune systems.

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