Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the researchers have shown that the absence of quality connections with people and not the lack of contact predicts the onset of type 2 diabetes.
The study, published in the journal Diabetologia, indicates that prolonged loneliness may influence the development of diabetes, suggesting the experience of lockdown could potentially compound people’s vulnerability in this pandemic if the loneliness continues for some time.
“The study shows a strong relationship between loneliness and the later onset of type 2 diabetes,” said study lead author Ruth Hackett from the King’s College London in the UK.
The research team analysed 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 study also demonstrated a clear distinction between loneliness and social isolation in that isolation or living alone does not predict type 2 diabetes whereas loneliness, which is defined by a person’s quality of relationships, does.
According to the team, 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, 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,” Hackett explained.