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Loneliness increases risk of type 2 diabetes

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Loneliness creates a chronic state of anguish that can activate the physiological response to stress, playing a fundamental role in the development of the disease through mechanisms such as temporary resistance to insulin.

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and its incidence has increased dramatically in the last two decades. Recent research suggests that loneliness is a possible risk factor for its development.

A study reveals that the feeling of loneliness is related to the development of this disease. The research was conducted by Associate Professor Roger E. Henriksen and colleagues at the West Norwegian University of Applied Sciences . As well as examining the link, we looked at whether depression and insomnia play a role.

Although the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, this response is believed to play a key role in its development through temporary insulin resistance caused by elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The researchers used data from the HUNT study, a collaboration between the HUNT Research Center (School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Norwegian University of Science and Technology [NTNU]), Trøndelag County Council, the Norwegian Regional Authority and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. This database contains health information (from questionnaires, medical tests and blood samples) of more than 230,000 people and was obtained through four population surveys: HUNT1 (1984-1986), HUNT2 (1995-1997) , HUNT3 (2006-2008) and HUNT4 (2017-2019).

T2D status was the main outcome variable and was based on HbA1c (long-term glycemic control glycosylated hemoglobin) greater than 48mmol.

Loneliness was measured from responses to whether they had felt lonely in the previous two weeks on a four-point scale (“not at all,” “somewhat,” “quite a bit,” and “a lot”). Higher scores indicated more severe symptoms.

The study found that higher levels of loneliness at the start of the study were associated with a higher incidence of T2D when measured 20 years later.

After adjusting for age, gender and educational level, it was found that participants who answered “a lot” to the question of whether they had felt lonely were twice as likely to develop it as those who had not.

Although their study did not examine the exact mechanisms involved, the researchers note that social support, influence, and engagement can positively affect health-promoting behaviors. For example, advice and support from a friend can influence an individual’s decisions and positively affect their diet, level of physical activity, and overall feelings of stress.

Diminished social ties and a lack of these positive influences can make lonely people more vulnerable to behaviors.

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