People with diabetes are at a greater risk of dying from COVID-19, according to results. Prolonged loneliness may influence the development of diabetes. Lockdown during the pandemic could compound people’s vulnerability if the loneliness continues.
A fifth of adults in the UK and a third of adults in the USA report feeling lonely sometimes.
Previous research has associated loneliness with an increased risk of death and heart disease.
The study analyzed data from 4112 adults aged 50 years between 2002 and 2017 from the English Longitudinal Study Ageing.
At the beginning of the study, all participants were free of diabetes and had normal levels of blood glucose.
Over 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.
The relationship between loneliness and type 2 diabetes remained intact when accounting for smoking, alcohol, weight, level of blood glucose, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. This association was also independent of depression, living alone and social isolation.
A possible biological reason behind the link between loneliness and type 2 diabetes could be the impact of constant loneliness on the biological system responsible for stress. Over time loneliness affects the body and increases the risk for diabetes.
“If the feeling of loneliness becomes chronic,” explained Dr Hackett. “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.”
Another possible explanation could be biased in our thinking that may perpetuate the association between loneliness and diabetes.
When people feel lonely, they expect people will react to them negatively which makes it more difficult to form good relationships.