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Loneliness could be an indicator of late-onset type 2 diabetes

A new study highlights the importance of strong social connections

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Photo (c) Marco_Piunti - Getty Images
While researchers have found how certain personality traits can affect consumers’ likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, a new study is exploring the role that loneliness might play in the disease’s progression. 

According to researchers from King’s College London, older adults who experience higher levels of loneliness are more likely to develop the condition. 

“This study shows a strong relationship between loneliness and the later onset of type 2 diabetes,” said researcher Dr. Ruth Hackett. “What is particularly striking is that this relationship is robust even when factors that are important in diabetes development are taken into account, such as smoking, alcohol intake, and blood glucose, as well as mental health factors, such as depression.”

Social connections affecting physical health

To understand how loneliness can affect consumers’ likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, the researchers analyzed data from the English Longitudinal Study on Aging, which included data on over 4,100 participants over the age of 50. The researchers assessed the participants’ overall health and gave them a questionnaire to measure their loneliness when the study began. Regular follow-ups were then conducted over the course of 15 years. 

There was a clear link between those who reported the highest levels of loneliness and those who developed diabetes over the course of the study. The researchers accounted for several other risk factors that are closely associated with diabetes, and with all of those things taken into consideration, loneliness still emerged as a predictor of late-onset diabetes. 

While there are several reasons why loneliness and diabetes could be linked, the researchers believe the connection exists because feelings of isolation can put a great deal of stress on the body. They said that people who experience this kind of stress are more vulnerable to disease.

“If the feeling of loneliness becomes chronic, then everyday you’re stimulating the stress system and over time that leads to wear and tear on your body and those negative changes in stress-related biology may be linked to type 2 diabetes development,” said Dr. Hackett. 

Ultimately, having solid social support is key for consumers’ health and well-being. Hackett says that those with this kind of support tend to have better physical health outcomes.

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