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Why even an unhappy marriage is good for your health

An unhappy marriage is better for your health than being single or divorced, a study suggests.

People who live with a spouse are less likely to have high blood sugar levels which can lead to type 2 diabetes — regardless of how harmonious or acrimonious their relationship is, according to research.

Experts believe couples influence each other’s behaviour – such as diet – as well as tending to have higher shared income, which can also lead to healthier eating.

Previous research has found marriage can lead to a host of health benefits including a longer life, fewer strokes and heart attacks, lower risk of depression and healthier eating than those who are single.

But researchers wanted to hone in on how being in a long-term relationship impacted on blood sugar levels, which can be the result of factors including what we eat, hormones and stress.

People who live with a spouse are less likely to have high blood sugar levels which can lead to type 2 diabetes — regardless of how harmonious or acrimonious their relationship is, according to research

They analysed data on more than 3,300 adults, aged 50 to 89, from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

People were asked if they had a husband, wife, or partner with whom they lived, with 76 per cent of participants found to be married or cohabiting.

They were also asked questions to examine the level of strain and support within the relationship.


Type 2 diabetes is a condition which causes a person’s blood sugar to get too high.

More than 4million people in the UK are thought to have some form of diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight and you may be more likely to get it if it’s in the family.

The condition means the body does not react properly to insulin – the hormone which controls absorption of sugar into the blood – and cannot properly regulate sugar glucose levels in the blood.

Excess fat in the liver increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as the buildup makes it harder to control glucose levels, and also makes the body more resistant to insulin. 

Weight loss is the key to reducing liver fat and getting symptoms under control.

Symptoms include tiredness, feeling thirsty, and frequent urination.

It can lead to more serious problems with nerves, vision and the heart.

Treatment usually involves changing your diet and lifestyle, but more serious cases may require medication.

Source: NHS Choices;

The results were then analysed alongside data gathered from blood samples taken every four years which measured average blood glucose levels, known as HbA1c.

Experts from the University of Carleton, Ottawa, Canada, and the University of Luxembourg found that those who were married or co-habiting had blood sugar levels that average a fifth (21 per cent) lower than those who were single, divorced or bereaved. The same held true for both men and women, the results showed.

The quality of the relationship did not make a significant difference to the average levels of blood glucose, which they acknowledge was surprising in light of previous findings suggesting supportive relationships are most beneficial.

However, those who experienced marital transitions – such as divorce – also experienced significant changes in their HbA1c levels and odds of pre-diabetes, the condition which often precedes diabetes.

Katherine Ford, of Carleton University, Ottawa, who led the study, suggested the relationship showed how people’s health could intertwine in relationships.

She said: ‘I would speculate that marriage and cohabitating partnerships require a particular emotional investment over a long period of time. The salience of this type of relationship likely means that the loss of it may have implications for health, such as average blood sugar levels.’

More than 4.9 million people in the UK have diabetes, according to the latest figures from Diabetes UK, with around 7 million at risk of developing the condition.

There are also an estimated 850,000 people living with type 2 diabetes but are undiagnosed, with the vast majority of cases linked to an unhealthy lifestyle.

The findings, published in the BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care journal, relationships could be key to keeping blood sugars down, with any relationship better than none at all.

They suggest increased support for older adults who are going through divorce or bereavement and that relationships should be encouraged in later life, to lower the risk of health problems.

The researchers conclude: ‘Overall, our results suggested that marital/cohabitating relationships were inversely related to HbA1c levels regardless of dimensions of spousal support or strain.

‘Likewise, these relationships appeared to have a protective effect against HbA1c levels above the pre-diabetes threshold.’


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