Cats counteract the 26% increased chance of a heart attack in lonely diabetics

I’m going to refer to several studies reduced to simple language. I know how people don’t like studies because they can be a bit technical. In summarising, the studies found that people with diabetes who were lonely were 26% more likely to develop heart disease than those who regularly saw friends. To counteract the finding, there are many studies which state that interaction with a pet, for example a cat or dog, helps to reduce social isolation and therefore loneliness.

Pets almost always alleviate loneliness. Image: MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Loneliness increasing the risk of heart disease

A recent study reported in The Times today involved 18,509 adults in Britain with type II diabetes. I would like to add right away that although the study involved people suffering from diabetes, the results probably apply equally to those who do not suffer from diabetes but who are lonely.

The participants said that they felt lonely. They were aged between 37-73. The scientists followed them for a decade. During this time 16% (3,247) developed heart disease or had a stroke. Sixty-one percent of the participants said that they felt lonely with nobody to talk to.

The conclusion of the study is that loneliness is a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes in patients with diabetes. And they concluded that loneliness is a greater risk factor for heart disease than poor diet, smoking, not exercising or suffering from depression. The only risk factors that were more serious than loneliness were high cholesterol and obesity.

The underlying reason appears to be that loneliness leads to increased levels of stress hormones such as cortisol which increases blood pressure.

The recommendation is obvious, namely that lonely diabetic people should join a group AND adopt a cat! The lead author, Prof Lu Qi, of Tulane University in New Orleans, said:

The quality of social contact appears to be more important for heart health in people with diabetes than the number of engagements.

In the UK, more than 5 million people have diabetes. This is linked to the obesity epidemic in people and indeed their pets in both the UK and the USA.

Pets reducing loneliness

You don’t need to look far to see a direct link in the reduction of loneliness in people who live with a companion animal. For example, the Human Animal Bond Research Institute is an article about Social Isolation and Loneliness explored the potential for companion animals to provide effective relief for social isolation, loneliness and the related health conditions.

They found that 85% of respondents agreed that interaction with pets can help reduce loneliness and that 76% agreed that human-pet interactions can help address social isolation. Eighty percent of pet owners said that their pet made them feel less lonely and 54% said that their pet helped them connect with other people.

During Covid-19 many people who were previously sociable became isolated but in a further study, more than 90% of respondents said that their pet help them cope emotionally with the lockdowns. The study from the University of York and the University of Lincoln found that having a pet was linked to maintaining better mental health and reducing loneliness. There were 6,000 participants. The species of companion animal was not particularly relevant although the most common, as we know, is either a cat or dog or both.

A University of Sydney study concluded that dog ownership “could” reduce loneliness. Although the participants reported “lower levels of loneliness within three months of getting a dog, with the effect persisting to the end of the study”.

One factor with living with a dog companion is that you are more likely to get to know others in your neighbourhood because when walking a dog you end up interacting with other people and starting a conversation.

If you are committed and brave enough to take your cat for a walk on a lead (becoming more popular), you are sure to meet even more people willing to talk to you and interact. Or is a lead is asking too much what about a cat stroller.

Conclusion

I feel quite confident in suggesting that the 26% greater likelihood of developing heart disease if you are lonely can be fully counteracted by living with a cat companion. You can add to that by simply going for a walk in a park and talking to the first person you meet! And if you find that difficult; do what the good professor said and join a group as well. Note: the cat’s purr is good for the heart! When you live with a cat allow yourself some down time when you simply sit quietly with your cat on your lap if they are a lap cat. Soak up the feeling. Do nothing else. You’ll get the max. benefit.

The only proviso that I can think of is that if you do adopt a cat to reduce your loneliness, you have a duty to look after the cat to a high standard. Adopting a cat is an act of altruism, of giving as well as receiving. The more you give – as the saying goes – the more you receive. But a person who adopts a cat must be committed to it and you can’t just adopt to alleviate loneliness.

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