Even an unhappy relationship could protect your health

Diabetes type 2: Dr Zoe Williams discusses high blood sugar risks

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Type 2 diabetes is often driven by poor lifestyle choices, with an unhealthy diet stirring the wheel. However, new research suggests that it’s not just what you put into your body. Social isolation may also increase your risk of the blood sugar condition. Fortunately, there’s a solution – find someone to live with.

Whether you tied the knot years ago or moved in with your partner recently, living with someone could be good for your physical health.

Interestingly, it doesn’t matter whether your relationship is harmonious or acrimonious, according to a study, published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.

The researchers suggested that a partner spurs people on to look after themselves better.

Corresponding author Dr Katherine Ford, of the University of Luxembourg, said: “Increased support for older adults who are experiencing the loss of a marital/cohabitating relationship through divorce or bereavement, as well as the dismantling of negative stereotypes around romantic relationships in later life, may be starting points for addressing health risks, more specifically deteriorating glycaemic regulation, associated with marital transitions in older adults.”

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The study findings suggested that people who cohabit have lower blood sugar levels.

Overall, the blood glucose levels fell by 0.21 percent in this group – a significant improvement compared to peers who were single through choice, bereavement or divorce.

Dr Ford said: “To contextualise our result, other work has suggested a decrease of 0.2 percent in the population average value would decrease excess mortality by 25 percent.”

What’s more, it appears that simply living with someone was enough to provide the health boost, according to the research team.


The researchers analysed data from 3,335 older people involved in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). 

The participants were tracked for a decade, provided regular blood samples and answered questions designed to measure the level of their social strain and support.

The study sample included about three quarters of participants who were married or cohabiting. 

After adjusting for factors like age, body mass index, and smoking, the results showed that people who experienced divorce were more likely to develop pre-diabetes.

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In case you aren’t aware, pre-diabetes describes higher than normal blood sugar levels that are not high enough to be classified as the full-blown condition.

Surprisingly, the quality of the relationship didn’t make a significant difference to the average levels of blood sugar, meaning that having a supportive or strained relationship was less important than just having a relationship.

Dr Ford said: “Overall, our results suggested marital/cohabitating relationships were inversely related to blood sugar levels regardless of dimensions of spousal support or strain.

“Likewise, these relationships appeared to have a protective effect above the pre-diabetes threshold.”

While this study discovered some interesting insights, the research was merely observational.

Furthermore, the team reported some limitations, including a sizeable number of participants who dropped out.

The researchers added that there was also the possibility that those with worse health were more likely to get divorced.

But this isn’t the first research to tie health benefits to relationships, as previous studies have shown married individuals have a lower risk of developing conditions like hypertension or high cholesterol.

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