In a new study, researchers found that loneliness could predict the development of type 2 diabetes.
They found it is the absence of quality connections with people and not the lack of contact that predicts the onset of type 2 diabetes.
The finding suggests that helping people form and experience positive relationships could help prevent type 2 diabetes.
The research was conducted by a team at King’s College London.
Loneliness occurs when an individual perceives that their social needs are not being met and reflects an imbalance between desired and actual social relationships.
A fifth of adults in the UK and a third of adults in the USA report feeling lonely sometimes.
There is a growing interest in the role of loneliness in health and previous research has associated loneliness with increased risk of death and heart disease.
This is the first study to investigate the experience of loneliness with a later onset of type 2 diabetes.
The team analyzed data from the English Longitudinal Study Ageing on 4112 adults aged 50 years and over which was collected at several times from 2002 to 2017.
At the start of data collection, all participants were free of diabetes and had normal levels of blood glucose.
The study showed that over a period of 12 years 264 people developed type 2 diabetes, and the level of loneliness measured at the start of data collection was a big predictor of the onset of type 2 diabetes later on in life.
This link remained intact when accounting for smoking, alcohol, weight, level of blood glucose, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.
The association was also independent of depression, living alone and social isolation.
The results have implications in light of recent findings that people with diabetes are at greater risk of dying from COVID-19.
It indicates that prolonged loneliness may influence the development of diabetes, suggesting the experience of lockdown could potentially compound people’s vulnerability in this pandemic if the loneliness continues for some time.
According to the team, a possible 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.
One author of the study is Dr. Ruth Hackett from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience.
The study is published in Diabetologia.
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