Frequent readers of this newsletter are well-informed on the link between good nutrition and health. Indeed, we’ve reported on countless studies showing the significant impact that nutritious food has on well-being and longevity.
But have you considered how your dining companions, or lack thereof, may affect you?
Now, a new study in the journal Menopause, published by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), shows there’s an association between eating alone and cardiovascular disease in older women.1
Let’s dig into this research that shows exactly why…
Researchers drew data from the 2016 Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to explore the link between the risk of cardiovascular disease and eating alone.2
The team’s previous research findings revealed the negative impact of solo dining. This go-around, the researchers zeroed in on a pool of nearly 600 menopausal participants over age 65. They compared the health behaviors and nutritional status of women who ate alone to those who regularly ate with others.
What Did the Researchers Discover?
As suspected, they found that women who ate alone generally reported a higher number of unhealthy nutritional habits. They were also more than twice as likely to experience angina, a type of chest pain that can be a symptom of coronary artery disease.
Dr. Stephanie Faubion, of the North American Menopause Society, shed some light on the findings, explaining that this demographic is also more likely to be widowed and to have lower incomes in addition to an overall poor nutritional intake.
“These results are not surprising given that lower socioeconomic status and social isolation contribute to lower quality of life, greater rates of depression, and poorer health,” Dr. Faubion notes.
Understanding Heart Disease in Older Women
Unfortunately, the risk of heart disease increases for everyone – both men and women – as we age, especially for folks older than 65, according to the National Institute on Aging.3
However, women have other factors that play into their increased risk of heart disease. According to the Cleveland Clinic their higher risk may be tied to the decline in estrogen levels that occurs after menopause.4
You see, estrogen has many positive effects on heart health. It not only decreases LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) cholesterol, but this hormone also relaxes and dilates blood vessels to increase the flow of blood, as well as soaks up free radicals.
Indeed, the heart disease deck may be stacked against older women, but these findings point to a larger issue for both sexes…
The Health Impacts of Isolation
Past research has sounded the alarm about the psychological and physical health effects of eating alone, and the larger problem of loneliness, especially among older adults.5
Social isolation — or lacking social connection — and living alone are more dangerous to a person’s health than feeling lonely. The research shows they increase mortality risk by 29 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
“This is something that we need to take seriously for our health,” says Brigham Young University researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an author of the study. “This should become a public-health issue.”
Sadly, more Americans than ever are living alone. Plus, social distancing measures due to the pandemic haven’t exactly helped foster in-person connections.
Still, research shows that strong social connections can improve health in a variety of ways, including by helping us to manage stress, improve our immune system function, and provide meaning to our lives.
What’s the Answer?
I wish I had an ironclad solution to isolation and loneliness. I don’t.
This research does highlight how important it is for solo diners to make nutrition a priority; no eating cold leftovers over the sink!
And if you live alone, consider making more mealtime plans with friends. Or if you know folks who are alone, invite them over for a casual supper. You will all benefit.