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Study: Loneliness can double risk of diabetes

The body's stress response elevates levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, leading to temporary insulin resistance.


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Loneliness can double the risk of developing diabetes. (Ground PIcture via Shutterstock)

By Alice Clifford via SWNS

Loneliness can double the risk of developing diabetes, according to new research from Norway.

Scientists say that being lonely creates short-term and even long-lasting distress, which sometimes can activate the body's physiological stress response.

They believe the reaction plays a "key role" in the development of type two diabetes.

The body's stress response elevates levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, leading to temporary insulin resistance.

By resisting insulin, the body's blood sugar levels increase, which is what causes type two diabetes.

Previous studies have also found an association between loneliness and unhealthy eating, as those who are lonely are more likely to drink sugary drinks and eat foods rich in sugars and fats, as they have fewer social ties and minimal positive influences.

As a result, blood sugar levels rise and consequently lead to type two diabetes.

The researchers from Western Norway University of Applied Science used data from the HUNT study.

This is a collaboration between the HUNT Research Centre, Trøndelag County Council, the Central Norway Regional Health Authority and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

The data contains responses to health questionnaires, medical examinations and blood samples of more than 230,000 people. The data was collected four times between 1984-2019.

The researchers took the information from 24,024 people who participated in the tests between 1995-1997. They chose the people who did not already have type one or two diabetes and whose blood data was available.

Asian young woman sitting looking at window with stress and Anxiety, headache at home. Concept Mental Health
(Perfect Angle Images via Shutterstock)

To gauge loneliness, the people were asked whether they had felt lonely over the previous two weeks.

The response options were 'no, 'a little', 'a good amount' and 'very much.'

After adjusting for age, sex and education level, they found that participants who responded ‘very much’ were twice as likely to develop type two diabetes than those who did not feel lonely.

Out of the 24,024 people, 13 percent of them said they had feelings of loneliness. 1,179 participants then went on to develop type two diabetes from 1995-2019.

The study, published in the journal Diabetologia found that 59 percent of these people were men.

They also had a higher average age than those who did not develop the condition. The average age of men was 48 and the average age of women was 43.

Those who developed type two diabetes were also more likely to be married, with 73 percent of the men being married and 68 percent of women being married.

Finally, those who developed the condition were more likely to have a low level of education, with 35 percent of men and 23 percent of women with type two diabetes having a low level of schooling.

The study also looked at whether depression and insomnia play a role in the development of type two diabetes.

But they found that the relationship between loneliness and type two diabetes wasn't altered by either of these things.

The researchers advise that loneliness should be included in clinical guidelines relating to type two diabetes.

Dr. Roger Henriksen, an associate professor in the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, and the lead author of the study, said: “It is important that healthcare providers are open to dialogue about an individual’s concerns during clinical consultations, including with regard to loneliness and social interaction.”

He added: “Questions to be answered are the extent to which loneliness leads to the activation of stress responses, the extent to which loneliness affects health-related behavior and, importantly, how these two pathways interact in terms of contributing to an increased risk of type two diabetes.”

The researchers note that social support, influence and engagement, such as advice and support from friends, may lead to more healthy behaviors and lower the risk of developing type two diabetes.

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