Stress plays a key role in our lives and typically helps us overcome day-to-day challenges.
It alerts us, allows us to prioritize and focus on tasks at hand.
But stress can also cause health complications if we experience it too much and too often, otherwise known as chronic stress.
Chronic stress is implicated in a handful of medical complications1-3, but there is evidence that long-term stress can also contribute to the development of metabolic disorders, like type 2 diabetes mellitus (i.e., diabetes)4.
Stress and Diabetes
Stress is thought to be highly involved in the development and progression of type 2 diabetes4, and there is some scientific evidence by which these two things are linked.
For example, in people with diabetes, their stress response is not normal4.
Typically, when you are exposed to stress, there is a sharp increase in stress hormones, like cortisol, as well as increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and some markers of inflammation5, which return to normal levels shortly after the stress is gone.
But in people with diabetes, it appears that this typical response does not work properly4.
Importantly, chronic stress exposure can change how the stress system responds to future stressors.
One way it does this is by reducing physiological reactivity to future stressors6, which is a common finding in people with diabetes4.
Moreover, chronic stress can actually lead to increased markers of inflammation7, and interestingly, increased inflammation is thought to contribute to the development of diabetes8,9.
At the same time, there is evidence that inflammation can reduce the body’s response to sugar by decreasing its sensitivity to the hormone, insulin10.
Insulin is incredibly important in allowing the body to use sugar11, and if the body’s sensitivity to insulin is lowered, the body is not able to clear sugar from the blood very well.
Importantly, reduced insulin sensitivity is a hallmark of diabetes12.
Together, it may be that chronic stress plays a role in the development of diabetes by changing the way the body regulates stress and inflammation, thereby reducing the body’s ability to modulate sugar levels in the blood.
Stress, Women, and Diabetes
Recent findings suggest that stress is a critical player in the development of diabetes, specifically in women13.
Interestingly, this may be because women are affected by things like psychosocial stress more than men14.
Psychosocial stress is a type of stress that deals with social threats, which can be anything from being socially evaluated by peers to being judged on performance at work15.
At the same time, obesity is a significant risk factor for diabetes, and this tends to be more common in women14.
Importantly, it is very well known that obesity is associated with insulin resistance16 and elevated markers of inflammation, particularly those that are found in people with diabetes17,18.
Together, it may be that psychosocial stressors and obesity interact to increase the risk of diabetes in women.
What Can I Do to Overcome These Risks?
There are many ways you can take control of the risks associated with diabetes.
One of the ways is to tackle obesity head-on by incorporating frequent exercise and eating well. In fact, exercise has been shown to be a significant player in reducing risk for diabetes19, while diets high in simple sugars can increase your risk20.
Some of the easiest ways you can create a healthy active lifestyle for yourself is by including a short walk around the block or kicking a soccer ball around outside.
In fact, for substantial health benefits, it is recommended that individuals should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week21.
Of course, a combination of moderate- and high-intensity exercise is likely to work just as well.
In addition, taking control of how you handle stress may greatly reduce your risk for diabetes.
Things like mindfulness-based stress reduction can greatly help you cope with stress22, possibly by its effects on inflammation and stress hormones23, including those that are known to negatively affect health.
Some ways you can incorporate mindfulness-based strategies are by engaging in daily meditation sessions or participating in yoga classes (or DIY from your own home, of course). You may even find that journaling your thoughts or starting your own outdoor garden can bring peace and tranquility to your life.
These are great ways to become in tune with your emotions and separate yourself from the daily stressors that life can throw at us.
Finally, you can always include a natural supplement in your diet that includes a variety of vitamins and minerals found to play key roles in managing daily stresses, particularly stressors related to females24.
The risk for diabetes heavily involves components of the stress, immune, and metabolic systems, among other factors.
By incorporating a healthy active lifestyle and stress-coping strategies into your everyday life, you can directly tackle the risk factors associated with diabetes, one day at a time.
As always, consult your physician before making any significant changes to your diet and/or lifestyle.