Put a ring on good health: Being married may prevent Type 2 diabetes

ESCH-SUR-ALZETTE, Luxembourg — Having a sweetheart could help you maintain lower blood sugar levels, decreasing the risk of developing diabetes, according to a recent study. Scientists have found that individuals, particularly those over 50, tend to take better care of their health if they’re married. A team from Luxembourg and Canada observed that both husbands and wives exhibited lower blood sugar levels, which decreased by 0.21 percent on average. This figure was statistically significant in comparison to individuals who were single due to preference, death, or divorce.

“To give context to our results, other studies have suggested that a 0.2% decrease in the population’s average blood sugar level could reduce excess mortality by 25%,” says Dr. Katherine Ford, the corresponding author from the University of Luxembourg.

This health advantage was apparent regardless of the quality of the marital relationship, whether it was harmonious or discordant. The international research team concluded that merely cohabitating with another person provided this health benefit.

“We found that marital status, unlike the level of support or strain within the marriage, seemed to influence average blood sugar levels in this population at risk for Type 2 diabetes,” says Dr. Ford in a media release. “Identifying and addressing obstacles that hinder the formation of romantic partnerships for older adults interested in pursuing these relationships could have subsequent benefits.”

Previous studies have confirmed the health benefits of marriage, as married individuals tend to have lower rates of disease. They are less likely to suffer from depression and are at a lower risk of developing conditions such as hypertension or high cholesterol.

Elderly couple happy in love
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This study could aid general practitioners in identifying vulnerable patients.

Ageism, stereotypes of ‘asexual’ older adults, deteriorating physical and mental health, and a lack of social opportunities are all cited as obstacles to dating and social connectedness,” adds Dr. Ford.

Risk of Type 2 diabetes, a form associated with unhealthy diets and lack of exercise, has been linked with social isolation, loneliness, living arrangements, social support, and the size of one’s social network.

The researchers analyzed data from 3,335 older individuals using the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Participants were followed for a decade, providing regular blood samples and responding to questions about their marital status and the quality of their relationships.

Approximately three-quarters of the respondents were either married or cohabiting. Analysis over time also showed that individuals who experienced divorce were more likely to develop prediabetes — a state of high blood sugar that can lead to full-blown diabetes.

However, the quality of the relationship did not significantly influence average blood glucose levels. This finding suggests that the presence of a relationship, regardless of its nature, is more important.

“Overall, our results suggested that being in a marriage or cohabiting relationship was inversely related to blood sugar levels, regardless of the level of spousal support or strain. These relationships appeared to offer a protective effect above the prediabetes threshold,” concludes Dr. Ford.

Estimates show that more than 37 million Americans have diabetes, and approximately 90 to 95 percent of them have Type 2 diabetes.

This study is published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.

What are the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes often starts subtly and can develop slowly over time. It’s possible for a person to have the condition for years without realizing it, as symptoms can be minor or mistaken for other health issues. Here are some of the symptoms often associated with Type 2 diabetes:

  • Increased thirst and frequent urination: With diabetes, excess sugar builds up in your bloodstream, causing fluid to be pulled from your tissues. This may make you feel thirsty more often and urinate more frequently.
  • Increased hunger: Without enough insulin to move sugar into your cells, your muscles and organs become depleted of energy, leading to increased hunger.
  • Fatigue: If your cells are deprived of sugar, you may feel tired and fatigued.
  • Blurred vision: High blood sugar levels can affect your eyes and cause blurred vision. This can occur when fluid is pulled from the lenses of your eyes, affecting your ability to focus.
  • Slow-healing sores or frequent infections: Diabetes can affect your body’s ability to heal and resist infections.
  • Areas of darkened skin: Some people with Type 2 diabetes have patches of dark, velvety skin in the folds and creases of their bodies — usually in the armpits and neck. This condition, known as acanthosis nigricans, is a sign of insulin resistance.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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