Study finds loneliness linked to doubled risk of developing diabetes

According to the findings of a recent study, feelings of loneliness are connected to a dramatically increased risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes. [Citation needed] (T2D).

The research, carried out by Associate Professor Roger E. Henriksen and his colleagues at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, was eventually published in Diabetologia, the magazine of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD). The study looked at whether depression and sleeplessness have a role in developing type 2 diabetes, in addition to analyzing the link between being lonely and the risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes.

A rising body of evidence suggests that an individual’s chance of getting type 2 diabetes is linked to the psychological stress they experience. Being alone may cause a persistent sensation of unhappiness and, at times, can linger for an extended period, which may trigger the body’s physiological response to stress. This response is believed to play a central role in developing type 2 diabetes through mechanisms such as temporary insulin resistance brought on by elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Although the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, this response is believed to play a central role.

This process also involves changes in how the brain regulates eating behaviour, resulting in an increased hunger for carbs and raised blood sugar levels. Previous research has demonstrated a correlation between feeling lonely and engaging in unhealthy eating behaviours, such as drinking more sugary beverages and eating more meals high in sugars and fats.

The researchers used information from the HUNT study, a joint effort involving the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, the Trondelag County Council, the Central Norway Regional Health Authority, and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

This database contains the health information (obtained from self-reported questionnaires, medical examinations, and blood samples) of more than 230,000 people. This information was obtained through four population surveys: HUNT1 (1984-1986), HUNT2 (1995-1997), HUNT3 (2006-2008), and HUNT4 (2010-2012). (2017-2019).

After removing persons with metabolic problems, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and those whose blood test data was unavailable, we were able to get baseline information for 24,024 participants from HUNT2. The critical end variable was type 2 diabetes status. It was determined based on whether or not a participant’s HbA1c (glycated haemoglobin; a marker of long-term blood sugar management) was more than 48mmol/mol when assessed in the HUNT4 survey.

The HUNT2 data survey asked respondents whether they had been lonely in the two weeks before the survey. Loneliness was scored on a four-point scale (‘no,’ ‘a little,’ ‘a decent lot,’ and very much’), and the results were used to determine the level of loneliness.

The severity of depressive symptoms was determined with the help of a questionnaire that was filled out during the HUNT3 study. The questionnaire contained seven questions, each of which was scored on a scale ranging from 0 to 3, for a total of 0 to 21 points; higher scores indicated more severe symptoms. Insomniacs were identified based on the responses that individuals gave to the following questions: “How frequently in the previous three months have you: “had trouble getting asleep at night,” “woken up repeatedly during the night,” and “woken too early and couldn’t get back to sleep,” respectively.” As part of HUNT3, participants were given these questions to respond to, and they had the option of choosing one of three responses: “never/seldom,” “occasionally,” or “many times a week.”

During the research, type 2 diabetes was diagnosed in 1,179 out of 24,024 participants (about 4.9 per cent) (1995-2019). Those with type 2 diabetes were more likely to be male (59 per cent vs 44 per cent), and they were older on average (48 years versus 43 years) than those who did not have the condition. In addition, they were more likely to be married (73 per cent compared to 68 per cent), and they had the lowest degree of education (35 per cent vs 23 per cent). Thirteen per cent of the individuals reported experiencing loneliness in their daily lives.

According to the findings of this study, higher levels of loneliness at the beginning of the study were highly connected with a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes twenty years later. They discovered that individuals who replied “very much” when asked if they had felt lonely when asked whether they had felt lonely were twice as likely to acquire T2D as those who did not feel lonely. This was the case after they adjusted for age, sex, and level of education.

Further investigation revealed that the existence of depression, sleep-onset insomnia, or terminal insomnia had no impact on the nature of this connection; however, the research team did uncover some indication of a connection to sleep maintenance insomnia.

The researchers point out that while their study did not investigate the specific processes involved, social support, influence, and involvement might have a favourable effect on behaviours that are beneficial to one’s health. An individual’s nutrition, level of physical activity, and general levels of stress may all be positively affected by the guidance and support of a friend, for instance, which may impact the health-related decisions that the individual makes. Lonely persons may be more susceptible to engaging in behaviours that put them at greater risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes because they have fewer social bonds and fewer of these beneficial impacts in their lives.

According to the study’s findings, therapeutic guidelines concerning type 2 diabetes should consider the effects of loneliness. They state, “during therapeutic consultations, healthcare practitioners must remain open to conversation about an individual’s issues, especially concerning loneliness and social contact.”

The authors believe that further study should be conducted into the processes at play in the connection between isolation and type 2 diabetes, as well as the roles played by sleeplessness and depression. The researchers come to the following conclusion: “Questions that need to be answered are the extent to which loneliness leads to the activation of stress responses, the extent to which loneliness affects health-related behaviour, and, most importantly, how these two pathways interact in terms of contributing to an increased risk of T2D.”

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