Loneliness may predict type 2 diabetes development

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The absence of quality connections may predict the onset of type 2 diabetes, according to a new study by King’s College London published in the journal Diabetologia.

The study analyzed data from the English Longitudinal Study Ageing on 4,112 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 significant predictor of the onset of type 2 diabetes later on in life. This relationship 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 researchers said.

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 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, according to the study.

Another explanation for the findings could be biases in our thinking that may perpetuate the association between loneliness and diabetes as when people feel lonely, they expect people will react to them negatively which makes it more difficult to form good relationships, the researchers said.

The results suggest that helping people form and experience positive relationships could be a useful tool in prevention strategies for type 2 diabetes, according to Ruth Hackett, PhD, lead author of the study.

“If the feeling of loneliness becomes chronic,” said Hackett in a statement, “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.”