A new study from Maastricht University has revealed that socially isolated people are more at risk of type 2 diabetes. So, could an active social life help us to avoid some of the risk factors for this condition?
Recently, researchers have focused on how our social ties can influence our bodily, as well as mental, health.
Over the past few months, Medical News Today have reported that maintaining close friendships can help to keep mental decline at bay, and that quality of life is improved by exercising as part of a group.
A new study from Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands has now revealed that being socially active correlates with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
"High-risk groups for type 2 diabetes should broaden their network and should be encouraged to make new friends, as well as become members of a club, such as a volunteer organization, sports club, or discussion group," urges study co-author Dr. Miranda Schram.
She adds that "men living alone seem to be at a higher risk for the development of type 2 diabetes, [so] they should become recognized as a high-risk group in healthcare. In addition, social network size and participation in social activities may eventually be used as indicators of diabetes risk."
The study's findings were published yesterday in the journal BMC Public Health.
The researchers analyzed medical data from 2,861 adults aged between 40 and 75 years, all of whom were participants in The Maastricht Study, which is a large observational cohort study looking at the genetic and environmental risk factors involved in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Of these, 1,623 did not have diabetes, 430 had prediabetes (meaning that their blood sugar levels were abnormal but not yet high enough to be classed as diabetes), 111 had very been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and 697 participants had a pre-existing diabetes diagnosis.
Social isolation associated with diabetes
The researchers found an intriguing correlation between the participants' social lives and how likely they were to be diagnosed with diabetes, which led them to ponder the potential relationship between socialization and the risk of developing this metabolic disease.
"We are the first to determine the association of a broad range of social network characteristics — such as social support, network size, or type of relationships — with different stages of type 2 diabetes. Our findings support the idea that resolving social isolation may help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes."
Lead study author Stephanie Brinkhues
Brinkhues and team found that the participants who did not join in with club activities or associate with any social groups were 60 percent more likely to have prediabetes.
Women who did not participate in social activities were 112 percent more likely to have type 2 diabetes, while socially isolated men had a 42 percent higher chance of having the disease.
The team also found significant links between the loss of friends and social acquaintances and the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. More specifically, the loss of each social contact was associated with 12 percent higher odds of newly diagnosed diabetes.
Moreover, taking an average network size of 10 people, the researchers noted that each 10 percent "drop in network members living within walking distance" of each other was linked to a 21 percent higher risk of newly diagnosed diabetes, and a 9 percent higher chance of previously diagnosed diabetes in female participants.
"Every additional 10 percent of the network that was a household member," the study authors write, was also associated with higher odds of newly diagnosed or existing type 2 diabetes in women, as well as men.
Finally, men who lived alone had a 59 percent higher chance of prediabetes, an 84 percent higher chance of newly diagnosed diabetes, and a 94 percent higher chance of an existing diagnosis of the condition.
No such association was noted in the case of women who lived alone.
However, they note that the causality may lie in either direction. It may be that people experiencing the early symptoms of an impaired glucose metabolism — including fatigue and a general sense of unwellness — may feel less motivated to go out, participate in social activities, and keep in touch with their friends and acquaintances.
"The study is cross-sectional in nature, and therefore, the possibility of reverse causality cannot be excluded," the authors caution.