Diabetes is a chronic condition caused by the body’s inability to properly control its blood sugar levels. Chronically raised blood sugar levels can results in innumerable detriments to one’s health, including heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
As of 2015 statistics, diabetes is estimated to affect 30 million Americans, 12 million of whom are over the age of 65. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes have previously been identified as family history of the condition, age, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle, but new research says that stress may also increase your risk of developing diabetes.
The researchers behind a new study found that stress caused by traumatic events or chronic stress from work or home life showed a positive correlation with new cases of type 2 diabetes in women over the age of 65. “As older women increasingly represent a higher proportion of our population, we need to better understand risk factors for diabetes in this group,” said Jonathan Butler, the study’s lead researcher.
The relationship between stress and diabetes has been of research interest for the last while. In the current study, the researchers analyzed data from 22,706 female health professionals. None of the participants were diagnosed with heart disease at the outset of the research. The follow-up period with the participants was an average of three years.
The information they gathered included information on acute and chronic stressors in the participants’ lives. Acute stress was defined as traumatic or negative experiences and chronic stress as long-term everyday stressors including work, family, relationships, finances, and discrimination.
Stress Doubles Diabetes Risk
The results of the analysis showed that the participants with the highest levels of acute or chronic stress were twice as likely to develop diabetes. “Psychosocial stressors as risk factors for diabetes should be taken as seriously as other embraced diabetes risk factors,” said Butler. The researchers believe that these stressors should be accounted for in regular screenings for diabetes risk just the same as other more commonly known risks are.
Future research will still be needed in order to confirm these findings and what they might mean on the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes. Next steps will also include identifying how targeting treatment on these mental health stressors could decrease a patient’s risk of diabetes. These results are significant for emphasizing the need to assess potential risk factors that are not currently recognized as standard risks for certain conditions such as diabetes.
“We know that lifestyle intervention works for diabetes prevention, but that can be challenging if people experience cumulative stressors, like losing a job or caring for a family member, that hinder them from engaging in healthy behaviors like exercising, eating right or smoking cessation,” said Dr. Michelle A. Albert, the study’s senior author. “It’s important to assess and understand a patient’s social history. They may need a referral to a counselor or social worker.”
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