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December 02, 2022


Diabetes poses a significant health burden and recent studies indicate that 1 in 10 adults are living with diabetes worldwide. India constitutes for 1 out of 7 of all adults living with diabetes in the world. A forecast indicates a 69% increase in the number of people living with diabetes by 2045.   

Diabetes and its causes

Diabetes is a chronic disease (continues for long time) where your blood sugar levels become high than normal (hyperglycemia). 

When the pancreas is no longer able to make insulin hormone (type 1 diabetes), or when a person doesn’t use the produced insulin properly, called as insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes), then it causes spikes in blood sugar levels leading to diabetes. Therefore, it is generally advised to control their sugar intake for people with diabetes. However, only too much sugar intake, doesn't cause diabetes in a healthy person. A number of factors contribute to an increased risk of diabetes such as overweight (obese), physical inactivity, family history, high lipid levels, and increasing age.

Stress and Diabetes: What’s the link?

In the individuals who are genetically more vulnerable to developing the disease, stressful experiences can lead to the onset of diabetes and also in terms of its worsening. Stress hormones make blood sugar rise or fall randomly, and if you are sick or injured then also stress can make your blood sugar go up.

In recent years, focus on the possibilities and mechanisms of stress in influencing diabetes control has gained interest. This possible influence is significant, not only because of the damaging effects of poor blood glucose control on routine life, but also development of diabetes complications (diabetic retinopathy (affecting the eyes), diabetic neuropathy (affecting the nerves) due to persistently high blood glucose levels. There may be both physiological and behavioural pathways between stressors and health status. The mechanisms may be “direct” (through physiological effects on the endocrine system) or “indirect” (through changes in healthcare schedules during stressful times; for example, missing of the medication dose and increased physical inactivity).

Stress Impairs Glucose Homeostasis 

Stress can be of two types: acute or chronic. Both can cause a broad range of bad effects, but chronic stress can have long-term effects on an individual’s health. The release of glucocorticoids and catecholamines are the main hormonal response to stress. The production of catecholamines and an upsurge in blood glucocorticoid levels due to psychological stress increase the requirement for insulin causing insulin resistance. In the long-term, these hormones might lead to impaired glucose balance. This disturbed glucose balance can lead to chronically high blood sugar levels, thereby leading to insulin resistance and type II diabetes.

The blood sugar levels are regulated mainly by two groups of hormones. Insulin belongs to the first group of hormones which reduces blood sugar. The second group includes counter-regulatory hormones, which mainly obstruct the action of insulin and increases the blood sugar levels. Some of the examples of these counter-regulatory hormones are: cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. Seemingly, stress causes an increase in the levels of these counter-regulatory hormones, which can lead to diabetes in a susceptible individual or worsening the diabetes control in someone with existing disease.

Managing Stress Can Reduce Blood Sugar Swings

In today’s fast-pace environment, stress has deep-roots and created a negative health quotient in lives of the individuals. Stress can affect your physical, mental and emotional health. Following a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise, correct diet and adequate sleep can help in mitigating the risks associated with high stress and keep one physically and mentally fit. A person with diabetes should learn to manage stress because stress can cause havoc with the management of diabetes.

Few Lifestyle Tips for Managing Stress

1. Yoga: A prolonged, low-grade inflammation in the body as is called as "inflammaging." Inflammaging has been shown to be associated with clinical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, depression, and a hampered immunity. Slow, deep breaths while relaxing your muscles for 5- 20 minutes is advised during stressful conditions.

2. Adequate Sleep: Stress can also be triggered by inadequate sleep. Lack of sleep restriction has been reported to be considerably associated with increase in cortisol levels (a counter-regulatory hormone) contributing to insulin resistance. A study found that people with type 2 diabetes who have sleep duration of < 4.5 hours a night had higher blood sugar levels than those with sleep duration of an average of 6.5 to 7.4 hours a night.

3. Exercise: Regular exercise has number of positive effects on health such as reduced stress, better alertness, improved cognition and brain activity and heightened energy levels. 

The National Health Portal recommends that adults aged 18-64 should do 150 minutes or more of moderate physical activity per week. Studies have indicated 40-70% reductions in the risk of developing type 2 with continued physical activity together correct diet.

Stress management by taking part in activities such as relaxation therapies, meditation, yoga or other recreational activities is key to healthy living. If you manage your stress well you will be able to cope up with the side effects of diabetes or delay the onset of diabetes to lead a better and healthy life.

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