Long bouts of loneliness could be the answer for why some people develop type 2 diabetes, a new study has suggested.

The research team from King’s College London say they found evidence to suggest that the lack of meaningful connections with people could increase the risk of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

They have recommended that trying to help people form relationships with people might help develop a useful prevention strategy for the condition in the future.

The study used data from more than 4,000 adults aged 50 years and over.

At the beginning of the data collection period in 2002, all the participants were diabetes free and their glucose levels were deemed normal.

However, between 2002 and 2017 a total of 264 people developed type 2 diabetes and their loneliness levels recorded at the start seemed to be a significant predictor to their diagnosis.

Lead study author Dr Ruth Hackett, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, said: “The study shows a strong relationship between loneliness and the later onset of type 2 diabetes. What is particularly striking is that this relationship is robust even when factors that are important in diabetes development are taken into account such as smoking, alcohol intake and blood glucose as well as mental health factors such as depression.

“The study also demonstrates 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.

“I came up with the idea for the research during UK lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic as I became increasingly aware and interested in how loneliness may affect our health, especially as it is likely that many more people were experiencing this difficult emotion during this period.”

Dr Hackett and her team are not certain why their research has shown there is an association between loneliness and type 2 diabetes.

She said: “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.”

The findings have been published in the Diabetologia journal.

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