New UK research has shown for the first time that people aged over 50 years who report higher levels of loneliness are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
Published in the journal Diabetologia, the prospective study suggests that it is the absence of quality connections with people and not the lack of contact that predicts the onset of type 2 diabetes.
The researchers conducted a longitudinal observational population study with data on 4112 diabetes-free participants (mean age, 65.02±9.05) from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Loneliness was assessed in 2004-2005 using the revised University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Loneliness Scale. Incident type 2 diabetes cases were assessed from 2006 to 2017. Associations were modelled using Cox proportional hazards regression, adjusting for potential confounders, which included cardiometabolic comorbidities.
A total of 264 (6.42%) participants developed type 2 diabetes over the follow-up period. Loneliness was a significant predictor of incident type 2 diabetes (HR, 1.46; 95% CI, 1.15-1.84; P=.002) independent of age, sex, ethnicity, wealth, smoking status, physical activity, alcohol consumption, BMI, HbA1c, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Further analyses detected an association between loneliness and type 2 diabetes onset (HR, 1.41; 95% CI, 1.04-1.90; P=.027), independent of depressive symptoms, living alone and social isolation. Living alone and social isolation were not significantly associated with type 2 diabetes onset.
Explaining why loneliness could increase diabetes risk, lead study author Dr Ruth Hackett said: “If the feeling of loneliness becomes chronic, then every day 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.”
The study suggests that helping people form and experience positive relationships could be a useful tool in prevention strategies for type 2 diabetes.