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Is there a common feeling that might lead to heart attack, stroke and diabetes?

Yes. Loneliness.

Objective: This study evaluated the association between loneliness and the metabolic syndrome, which refers to a clustering of factors that have been shown to increase risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and mortality. A secondary purpose was to evaluate whether age moderated the association between loneliness and the metabolic syndrome. Design: Participants were 52 to 79 years old, and they were drawn from a population-based survey of people 50 years of age and older living in England (N = 3211). They completed a self-report measure of loneliness and a nurse visit that included collection of blood pressure, blood sample, and anthropometric measures. Main Outcome Measures: Self-reported loneliness and the metabolic syndrome. Results: After controlling for demographic variables and smoking status, loneliness was significantly associated with increasing likelihood of meeting criteria for the metabolic syndrome and with the individual criterion of central obesity. The association between loneliness and the metabolic syndrome was not moderated by age. Conclusion: Results suggest that loneliness is associated with the metabolic syndrome. Therefore, the metabolic syndrome may be among the pathways by which loneliness increases risk of morbidity and mortality.

Source: “Loneliness and the metabolic syndrome in a population-based sample of middle-aged and older adults.” from Health Psychology, Vol 29(5), Sep 2010, 550-554.

Or it might be due to the underlying personality characteristics that can lead to loneliness:

The prevalence of metabolic syndrome has paralleled the sharp increase in obesity. Given its tremendous physical, emotional, and financial burden, it is of critical importance to identify who is most at risk and the potential points of intervention. Psychological traits, in addition to physiological and social risk factors, may contribute to metabolic syndrome. The objective of the present research is to test whether personality traits are associated with metabolic syndrome in a large community sample. Participants (N = 5,662) from Sardinia, Italy, completed a comprehensive personality questionnaire, the NEO-PI-R, and were assessed on all components of metabolic syndrome (waist circumference, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, blood pressure, and fasting glucose). Logistic regressions were used to predict metabolic syndrome from personality traits, controlling for age, sex, education, and current smoking status. Among adults over age 45 (n = 2,419), Neuroticism and low Agreeableness were associated with metabolic syndrome, whereas high Conscientiousness was protective. Individuals who scored in the top 10% on Conscientiousness were approximately 40% less likely to have metabolic syndrome (OR = 0.61, 95% CI = 0.41–0.92), whereas those who scored in the lowest 10% on Agreeableness were 50% more likely to have it (OR = 1.53, 95% CI = 1.09–2.16). At the facet level, traits related to impulsivity and hostility were the most strongly associated with metabolic syndrome. The present research indicates that those with fewer psychological resources are more vulnerable to metabolic syndrome and suggests a psychological component to other established risk factors.

Source: “Personality and metabolic syndrome” from Age, Volume 32, Number 4, 513-519

1 in 5 people feel lonely on a regular basis.

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About Eric Barker