Having a meal by yourself is nice sometimes. You can relax with a book, drink a glass of wine, and enjoy your meal in peace. But a new study suggests older women shouldn’t make this a habit. The practice could put some women at risk of heart disease.
In general, older women tend to be more at-risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) than older men. That’s due to the lower estrogen levels they produce post-menopause. Low levels of the hormone leads to decreased vascular function, and could severely damage the heart. This has prompted scientists to research risk factors that could contribute to CVD. And the latest shows older women who eat alone are more prone to develop the disease.
Scientists created the study by analyzing the nutritional history of 590 menopausal women over the age of 65. They gathered data from the Korean national health and nutrition examination survey from 2016, which happens annually. After identifying the women, they separated them into two groups: those who eat two or more meals alone per day and those who eat two or more meals with company per day.
The study found that women who routinely eat alone tended to have less nutritional knowledge. Therefore, their nutritional intake was lower. Their consumption of carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sodium, and potassium was also lower. This led to them being 2.58 times more likely to have angina, a type of chest pain caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart.
“This study shows that older women who eat alone are more likely to have symptomatic heart disease,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director for the North American Menopause Society. “They are also more likely to be widowed and to have lower incomes and poorer 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.”
In all, the study linked how poor nutritional knowledge can lead to risk of heart disease, and the importance of education.
“Given that women live longer than men, finding ways for older women who are socially isolated to engage and create meaningful social ties may not only improve their nutrition but also their overall health while simultaneously reducing healthcare costs,” Dr. Faubion said.
Humans tend to be social creatures, so this finding isn’t entirely surprising. But it is upsetting to think about how much being alone could impact our health. Whenever you can, make sure to share a meal with someone whose company you enjoy.