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Loneliness Predicts Development of Type 2 Diabetes

According to recent research, those with no or few meaningful social relationships are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This finding highlights the strong link between loneliness and the disease.

New research at King’s College London helps illuminate a strong connection between loneliness and the development of diabetes. Individuals with no or fewer quality social connections are more likely to suffer from the occurrence of type 2 diabetes—suggesting positive social connections may help prevents type-2 diabetes.

The findings are published in the journal Diabetologia (Hackett et al., 2020).

The results have implications, particularly at this time. Because increasing evidence has shown that people with diabetes have a higher risk of dying from Covid-19 (Parveen et al., 2020).

If the current lockdown, social isolation situation continues, more people may experience the risk of developing diabetes, which may further complicate the present suffering.

Loneliness develops when an individual experiences a wide gap between desired and actual social relationships. About one-third of the US adults and one-fifth of the UK adults report a feeling of loneliness sometimes.

Loneliness has become a growing interest in health science research. It plays a significant role in developing an increased risk of depression. It is connected with heart disease and mortality.

It is associated with aging and obesity. This is the first study investigating whether the experience of loneliness was associated with the later onset of type 2 diabetes.

In the study, the researchers analyzed the English Longitudinal Study Ageing data on 4112 adults aged 50 years or over. The data were collected from 2002 to 2017. At the start of data collection, all participants were free of diabetes and had normal blood glucose levels.

The study showed that over 12 years, 264 people developed type 2 diabetes. On average, those who developed diabetes were significantly lonelier (1.42 ± 0.53) than those who did not develop diabetes (1.33 ± 0.47; p = 0.013).

This relationship remained constant when effects of other variables such as smoking, alcohol, weight, blood glucose level, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease were analyzed. The association was also independent of depression, living alone and social isolation.

loneliness

Type 2 diabetes is considered a heterogeneous disorder of human physiology, characterized by insulin resistance, impaired glucose metabolism, and declining β-cell function, though primary events leading to the disease are associated with a deficit in insulin secretion (Mahler et al., 1999).

However, the mechanisms through which loneliness increases the risk of type 2 diabetes remain to be elucidated.

According to the study, a possible biological reason behind the association between loneliness and type 2 diabetes could be the impact of constant loneliness on the biological system responsible for stress, which, over time, affects the body and increases the risk for diabetes.

Another explanation, according to the study, could be biased in our thinking: when we feel lonely, we may think other people will react to us negatively, which makes our body exhibits poor health behavior, impacting health leading to physical inability.

Related Publication and Further Readings

Hackett, R. A., J. L. Hudson, et al. (2020). “Loneliness and type 2 diabetes incidence: findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.” Diabetologia 63(11): 2329-2338.

Mahler, R. J. and M. L. Adler (1999). “Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Update on Diagnosis, Pathophysiology, and Treatment.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab 84(4): 1165-1171.

Parveen, R., N. Sehar, et al. (2020). “Association of diabetes and hypertension with disease severity in covid-19 patients: A systematic literature review and exploratory meta-analysis.” Diabetes Res Clin Pract 166: 108295.

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