The diabetes-stress link



Photo credit: Bernard Goldbach, Flickr, Creative Commons.

By pH health care professionals

Most people are aware of the usual risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes, such as being overweight, not getting enough exercise, poor diet and smoking. But did you also know that stress is another risk factor for developing this disease that, according to the World Health Organization, impacts over 200 million people worldwide?

Physicians first reported the possible link between stress and diabetes during the 17th and 18th centuries.  But it wasn’t until the 1980s that researchers began taking a more serious look at the role psychological factors such as depression and stress played in the onset of Type 2 diabetes.  

What they found was that depression as well as general emotional stress, anxiety, sleeping problems, anger and hostility were all associated with an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes. Recent studies further confirm that psychological stress is associated with an accelerated progression to diabetes in high-risk populations (prediabetes population).

Perhaps even more compelling is a 35-year prospective follow-up study of 7,500 men in Gothenburg, by the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. In that study, men who reported permanent stress had a significantly higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than men who reported no stress.

Exactly how does stress increase your risk for diabetes?

When you're stressed, your blood sugar levels rise. Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol kick in since one of their major functions is to raise blood sugar to help boost energy when it's needed most. Think of the fight-or-flight response. You can't fight danger when your blood sugar is low, so it rises to help meet the challenge. Both physical and emotional stress can prompt an increase in these hormones, resulting in an increase in blood sugars. Over time, these increases in blood sugar levels may increase your risk for developing diabetes. 

What if you already have diabetes?

Stress may also impact your management of diabetes. There is strong evidence that psychological stress can negatively affect blood glucose control. So in addition to what you are already doing to manage your diabetes, stress management should be part of your toolkit.

What can you do now?

Be proactive. Remember what relieves stress is not the same for everyone. If you have a lot of stress, you should identify stress management techniques that work for you to lower your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.  This could include meditation, exercise and/or a healthy diet. You also should manage the other risk factors for developing diabetes and consider talking with a knowledgeable healthcare provider about taking the test to determine your risk for developing diabetes.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

Comments (2)


I have been arguing with endocrinologists for YEARS about this, I knew I wasnt crazy.  When I stressed my blood sugar went through the roof, when I was happen I bottomed out...Im glad I knew my body enough not to accept all that projected guilt about eating food I was never consuming.....


Yes - it is very important to understand how your body works for yourself.  


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