Is Stress Putting Women at Higher Risk of Diabetes?

Research has long shown that high levels of stress can wreak havoc on your health and wellbeing, with scientists finding links from a range of chronic diseases from high blood pressure to heart disease and obesity.

Now a headline-grabbing new study suggests that women who put in long hours at work may be at risk for another disease: Diabetes.

The study tracked more than 7,000 people over 12 years and found that women who worked more than 45 hours per week faced a 63 percent higher risk of diabetes than their counterparts who worked less.

While more in-depth data and better studies are needed to determine whether working long hours actually increases a woman’s chance of developing diabetes, researchers have long hypothesized that stress and diabetes are intricately linked, said Dr. Edward Nicklas, an endocrinologist at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Upper Kirby.

“Stress can be linked to diabetes in many ways,” he said. “For example, stress can increase what we call ‘counter hormones’ such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can increase blood sugar. Stress can also cause behavioral changes, such as overeating and exercising less often, which can lead to metabolic problems.”

A 700% Increase in U.S. Diabetes Cases Since 1958

The rates of people diagnosed with diabetes in the United States have skyrocketed in recent decades, from less than 1 percent of the population in 1958 to more than 7 percent in 2015, or roughly 23 million Americans, according to data published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While type 2 diabetes previously occurred primarily in older populations, today a growing number of young people are developing the chronic disease, which can have lifelong implications.

“Over time, we have seen an increasing incidence of diabetes coinciding with dietary and activity changes,” Dr. Nicklas said. “We generally eat a lot of processed foods, consume large portions and have a sedentary lifestyle.”

Dangers of Not Getting Treatment for Diabetes

The long-term effects of diabetes can be serious, especially if the disease is left unchecked for too long. Unregulated and unmanaged, diabetes can lead to kidney damage and even kidney failure, can raise the risk of developing high blood pressure, harden arteries as well as damage your vision and your nervous system. For people who have already been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s critically important to manage stress levels.

“It’s much harder to control your blood sugar when you are stressed,” he said. “Cortisol and adrenaline normally balance the sugar-lowering effect of insulin, but because people with diabetes may already not have enough insulin in their system when the stress occurs, blood sugars can easily spike.”

Lowering Your Risk of Diabetes

The good news, says Dr. Nicklas, is that there are ways to lower your risk of developing diabetes by making a few lifestyle modifications.

“Eat smaller portions; choose more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains; and find time to boost your physical activity schedules,”  Dr. Nicklas said. “It can be difficult to find time for exercise amid all of our daily responsibilities and busy schedules, but one simple change would be to start walking 30 minutes three days per week and increasing your activity level as tolerated.”

It’s important to look for ways to manage stress. Getting help from your healthcare provider is the first step.  Find a physician.

Already diagnosed with diabetes?

Memorial Hermann offers an experienced team of Certified Diabetes Educators who are specially trained to help people manage their disease. Read here for more information about the program and the classes available.

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Ali Vise