Can Your Friends Protect You from Diabetes?
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
When you are going through a rough patch in life, chances are you turn to your closest friends to help you cope. Similarly, when something wonderful happens to you, you probably can’t wait to share the good news with those same people. Friends are a valuable resource in so many ways emotionally and mentally. And now it appears that they may have a beneficial effect on your physical health as well. New research suggests that having friends might help you avoid diabetes.
The study, which took place at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, found that a larger social network of friendships may help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.1 These results are based on an investigation involving 2,861 men and women residing in the Netherlands. The subjects were between the ages of 40 and 75, with an average age of 60. As the research began, 29 percent of the participants had been previously diagnosed or were newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
All of the participants completed questionnaires that included topics pertaining to their social circles. The researchers then compared the quantity of close friends they reported with their incidence of diabetes. They discovered that the individuals with strong networks of 10 to 12 close friendships had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes versus their peers who considered just seven or eight close friends. And the difference was not minor, either, with each single lower number in the social network associated with between a five and 12 percent greater likelihood of diabetes.
While these figures were for men and women combined, the genders diverged when the investigators considered living arrangements. Men who lived alone had a higher chance of having a diabetes diagnosis, while women who lived alone did not face the same risk.
The study was not designed to prove cause and effect, so we cannot say that having fewer close relationships is necessarily a contributing factor to the development of type 2 diabetes. However, the strong link demonstrated in this research suggests that it may very well be one of several factors that can influence the disease. In line with that, a 2012 study at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston showed that a higher level of social support was tied to improved health outcomes for those with diabetes.2
It’s not clear why a connection exists between better social support and a lower chance of developing diabetes, but it may relate to the ways in which close relationships can impact our lives. Individuals with a larger number of good friends likely have more people with whom they regularly interact. That includes eating meals together, going places with others, and just generally engaging more in a social capacity. All of these situations can positively affect both eating habits and activity levels, particularly in those who live alone.
In addition, the more close friends a person has, the greater the emotional support they receive when dealing with problems or stressful life events. A 2014 study at Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in Iran showed that social support is essential for reducing the risk of depression,3 and we know that depression can lead to some of the poor lifestyle choices that increase the risk of diabetes.
So what do you do if you’re the type of person who has always emphasized quality over quantity in friendships and only consider two or three people close friends? Don’t despair, since obviously this is only one risk factor linked to diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating nutritiously, and exercising regularly are all more directly influential over your risk. If you’re content with your friendships, don’t worry about it and just maximize your time with your inner circle. On the other hand, if you’d like to expand your social network, get out there and meet others who share similar interests and enjoy the same activities. Perhaps you’ll not only develop a few new close friends, but help keep each other healthy for years to come.
- 1. Brinkhues, Stephanie; et al. "Socially isolated individuals are more prone to have newly diagnosed and prevalent type 2 diabetes mellitus—the Maastricht study." BMC Public Health. 19 December 2017. Accessed 23 December 2017. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-017-4948-6.
- 2. Strom, Joni L. and Egede, Leonard E. "The Impact of Social Support on Outcomes in Adult Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review." Current Diabetes Reports. December 2012. Accessed 24 December 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3490012/.
- 3. Roohafza, Hamid Reza; et al. "What's the role of perceived social support and coping styles in depression and anxiety?" Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. October 2014. Accessed 24 December 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4274570/.