Research reveals a new risk factor for diabetes

Plus, five simple steps to help keep blood sugar in check  

We like to say the holidays are the “most wonderful time of year.” But in reality, the holidays aren’t all glitter and mistletoe. There are high expectations, hectic schedules, and perhaps grim reminders of long-gone, happier holidays with loved ones who are no longer with us.  

Add in the declining daylight of December, the holidays can be rife with opportunities for sadness and loneliness—especially this year, with the coronavirus pandemic, social isolation, disruptions, and unprecedented economic and societal shut-downs still looming. 

Of course, it’s important to note that loneliness has been well-documented as a major risk factor for heart disease and death. In fact, studies show that lonely people are 22 percent more likely to die prematurely.1

And now, new research links loneliness to a substantially higher risk of developing Type II diabetes. 

Diabetes risk can skyrocket up to 84 percent  

The study tracked 4,112 English men and women, with an average age of 65, for 12 years.2  None of the participants had diabetes at the beginning of the study, but by the end of the study, 264 people had developed the disease.   

Researchers assessed the participants’ loneliness using the UCLA Loneliness Scale—which asks questions like “how often do you feel you lack companionship: hardly ever/never, some of the time, or often”?  

The researchers also considered participants’ age, ethnicity, gender, physical activity, and socioeconomic status. And they screened for diabetes risk factors such as excessive alcohol consumption, high body mass index (BMI), heart disease, and high blood pressure.   

Even after taking all of these factors into account, the researchers found that loneliness can increase the risk of being diagnosed with Type II diabetes by a whopping 46 to 84 percent!  

But there is some good news…especially in the age of coronavirus. The researchers found that living alone, social isolation, or depression, specifically, weren’t significant risk factors for diabetes.  

In my view, this shows that loneliness is a subjective feeling that more closely relates to the quality of social relationships rather than the quantity—or proximity.  

After all, it’s possible to feel lonely even when you’re surrounded by people, as first discussed in one of my favorite books, the classic post-World War II sociological study, The Lonely Crowd.   

Four steps to reduce loneliness 

The researchers had several theories for why loneliness is such a big risk factor for diabetes. 

For one, they noted that previous research had found that lonely people can have disturbances in their cortisol production. And too much of this stress hormone has been linked to diabetes and a whole host of other diseases.  

Plus, some studies have found that loneliness can result in increased inflammation—another major culprit in chronic diseases like Type II diabetes. 

Of course, occasional feelings of loneliness aren’t likely to bring on these metabolic changes. But if you’re feeling particularly lonely this holiday season—or any other time—there are effective, natural remedies.  

In the September issue of Insiders’ Cures, I wrote about my four simple steps to combat loneliness: 

1.) Have regular conversations (in person, by video, or by phone) with friends, family members, and even strangers. 

2.) Share your wisdom during those conversations. This not only helps you feel valuable, but can also be useful for the people you’re talking with. 

3.) Try some new, creative pursuits. This opens the door to other avenues to connect with like-minded people.  

4.) Get out in Nature. Study after study shows that the great outdoors has mental, emotional, and physical health benefits, as I regularly report.  

This month, I’d like to add a fifth item to this list… 

A good reason to get into hot water 

A new study evaluated the effects of a popular group activity that can ease loneliness and offer direct benefits for diabetes, blood sugar, and blood pressure: tub bathing.3     

Researchers from Japan conducted the first study on whether regularly soaking in hot water has an impact on risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

The study involved 1,197 men and women with Type II diabetes. Participants were split into three groups according to their frequency of  hot bathing: more than four times per week (693 people); one to four times per week (415 people); and less than once a week (189 people).  

After six months of this bathing regimen, the researchers found that body weight, BMI, waist circumference, blood pressure, and blood sugar were all significantly better in the group that bathed the most compared with the group that bathed the least.   

The mean frequency of hot tub bathing among all participants in the study was 4.2 times a week, for 16 minutes a session.  

In other words, simply taking a hot bath or jumping into a hot tub, steam bath, or sauna on just a semi-regular basis can substantially slash your diabetes risk factors.  

The social benefits of hot tubbing 

The Japanese researchers pointed out that other studies show that heat stimulation can increase insulin sensitivity and enhance energy expenditure—whether you’re sitting in a hot tub or sweating through a workout.  

But I also wonder if the social aspect of hot tub bathing with others also has an effect. After all, it’s difficult to feel lonely when you’re relaxing shoulder-to-shoulder with those you are close to!  

Of course, before you jump into a communal hot tub, check with your local authorities regarding restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

And in the meantime, take advantage of relaxing, hot baths in the comfort of your own home. You can even listen to some mindfulness meditation or music to help combat any feelings of loneliness while doing so! 

Sources:  

1“Association of loneliness with all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis.” PLoS One 13(1):e0190033. 

2“Loneliness and type 2 diabetes incidence: findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.” Diabetologia63,2329–2338 (2020). 

3Abstract 342, EASD (European Association for the Study of Diabetes), September 22, 2020. 


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