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 later onset of type 2 diabetes.
The study showed that over a period of 12 years 264 people [out of the 4112 studied] 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.
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.
‘If the feeling of loneliness becomes chronic,’ explained [researcher Ruth] Hackett. ‘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.’