Psychological Stress Could Contribute to Developing Diabetes

By Carl Engelking | October 21, 2014 9:25 am

stress diabetes

It’s well known that a stress-filled lifestyle can lead to high blood pressure, insomnia and a host of other chronic health issues. Now, you can add type 2 diabetes to that list.

Past studies have partly linked stress with the onset of diabetes, but the mechanisms behind why this happens were poorly understood. In a new study, researchers provide evidence of a direct link between psychological stress and biological dysfunction.

Stress Load

People who are constantly stressed have a high allostatic load, which is the physical wear and tear caused by our bodies’ natural stress response. People with high stress loads have trouble reacting to and recovering from stressful events because their bodies’ natural stress-balancing processes are disrupted.

To test the link between diabetes and stress, researchers recruited people with type 2 diabetes to see if they were also living with high allostatic loads. Researchers compared a group of 140 men and women with diabetes to a control group of 280 non-diabetic individuals. Each person took two mental stress tests and researchers took blood and saliva samples before and after the tests. Participants took additional saliva samples at home to measure the amount of cortisol — the stress hormone — they produced each day.  Lastly, they completed a psychological examination to establish their chronic stress levels.

When researchers analyzed that data they found that people with type 2 diabetes had higher levels of cortisol and of interleukin-6, a blood molecule that’s linked to inflammation. Diabetics also coped with the stress test less well, showing heightened blood pressure and heart rates for a longer period of time afterward. Finally, diabetics exhibited more hostile and depressive attitudes, according to psychological tests. Researchers published their results today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Diagnosing Diabetes

Researchers believe their evidence makes a compelling case to link the onset of diabetes with stress. And there’s a putative mechanism there in the form of inflammation, which is both produced by chronic stress and is one of the early signs of diabetes.

But the direction of causality isn’t settled yet. It could be that having the disease causes these changes in how people cope with stress. Regardless, the results indicate that stress is a good place for more research. Stress loads are high among people with diabetes, and understanding the interaction between stress and the body could improve care, and hopefully peace of mind as well.


Photo credit: /Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • Uncle Al

    Were there diabetes epidemics associated with WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, and the ongoing War on Islam? Where there diabetes epidemics associated with 1929, 1968, 2008 stock market crashes? Are there diabetes epidemics associated with graduate school, unemployment, divorce, being a losing sports team; being a prostitute, cop, air traffic controller?

  • Metalhead Nick

    I think Al is quite on point. Yeah, stress can be bad…even if it is linked with diabetes (causal arrow unknown), this just seems like an easy out. Sugar, laziness, and obesity, how bout that? Or does our obese lazy society need to find a nicer scapegoat than the mirror…

    • Astrodwarf

      I have been a fitness freak my whole life, yet I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 5 years ago. I find your analysis intellectually lazy…

      • Metalhead Nick

        I’m not saying that they are the only reasons at all, but there are definite links to sugar intake, obesity, etc. to type II diabetes. I’m sure there are many other factors. Actually, if you’re into that stuff, maybe you would know – when I read the article my first thought was that anti-catabolics would be very helpful then in combating type II diabetes. Any insight? Sorry, perhaps I was painting with too broad a brush. I am curious, do you know or have any suspicions as to the cause of your condition? I don’t mean to pry but I’d be interested.

        • Astrodwarf

          My diabetes appeared after a period of sustained physical & emotional stress…

          • Metalhead Nick

            I’m sorry to hear that. I know I’m kind of a jerk.

    • sosus

      Actually, you are quite wrong, but you seem to have quite the “hostile” attitude for some people. I just read an article recently about all the many people who have always been slender, always exercised, and would not, by most people, ever be described as “lazy” – there was an NBA player, some actors, etc. – who have type 2 diabetes. There does seem to be an association with obesity and a sedentary way of living, but that is certainly not the full picture; if it were, how would you account for all the many exceptions? Open your mind.

      • Metalhead Nick

        Over 80% of diabetics are overweight or obese. Anecdotal evidence does not prove or disprove anything. I am aware that there are other correlations but none even approach the weight issue. My post was insensitive and I apologize to astrodwarf. My mind is open please share with me any correlations you know of that are even close to being this statistically significant.


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