Stress and Diabetes – How Stress Can Lead to a Vicious Cycle Resulting in Diabetes

By | May 22, 2017
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Many people underestimate just how profound an impact stress can have on the body. Stress has a myriad of different effects on pretty much every aspect of our biology and can cause changes that you would not necessarily realize were related.

For instance, did you know that stress can exacerbate and even lead to diabetes? Stress can lead to a vicious cycle of hormone releases and changes in the body which ultimately make diabetes much more likely.

The Cycle of Cortisol

What you need to remember about stress is that it’s designed to trigger the release of hormones that encourage changes in the body aimed at improving short term physical and mental performance. Stress is supposed to make you faster, stronger and more alert in the face of predators or other immediate threats.

Thus stressors result in the release of cortisol, which in turn floods the body with glucose to provide a source of energy. At the same time, insulin secretion is suppressed in order to prevent that glucose from being stored as fat and thus encouraging it to be used immediately.

Cortisol also narrows the arteries and increases the heart rate to drive blood around the body faster and harder.

Cortisol, Stress and Diabetes

Over time this process can lead to increased blood glucose and especially when you aren’t getting exercise to burn off the energy. This then in turn can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.

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This is because the role of cortisol is largely to prevent the effectiveness of insulin, thus essentially rendering the cells insulin resistant. Insulin resistance is associated with ‘prediabetes’ and places high demand on insulin-producing beta cells. As beta cell function continues to deteriorate, this eventually leads to type 2 diabetes.

Other Interactions of Stress and Diabetes

Diabetes is also linked with weight gain which is also once again correlated with stress, thus demonstrating an indirect causal relationship between stress and diabetes.

Here, elevation of cortisol may mobilize the triglycerides from storage and move them to the visceral fat cells (the ones under the muscle in the abdomen).

At the same time, because insulin starves certain cells of glucose, this can also lead to hunger signals being sent to the brain. In other words, stress and cortisol in particular lead to hunger, snaking and weight gain – with obesity being a serious risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

In these ways then, there is a clear connection between stress and diabetes. While stress is a relatively normal part of life and not likely to put most people in serious danger of developing type 2 diabetes, for those that are already perhaps more susceptible owing to genetic or environmental factors, it might be just enough to push them over the edge. And it’s certainly yet one more reason why it is so important to combat stress whenever it occurs.

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