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Can stress cause diabetes? (Expert Interview)

Do you feel stressed all the time? Know how stress can affect your blood sugar levels and cause diabetes.

Stress and diabetesStress is a natural and an unavoidable element of life. All of us face stressful situations on a daily basis and diabetics are no exception to it. But people suffering from diabetes have to be extra careful about everything that could cause a spike in their blood sugar levels. Right from balancing diet, exercising daily to timing medication and monitoring sugar levels, management of diabetes can itself lead to a stressful condition. Let's understand how exactly stress affects sugar levels and quality of life of diabetics from expert diabetologist Dr Pradeep Gadge.

Can chronic stress lead to diabetes?

Dr Pradeep Gadge: Probably yes. Though there are no large studies to prove this, most doctors believe that emotional stress is a cause of diabetes. One possible explanation to this is changes in hormonal levels caused by stress. During stress, levels of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol increase. These hormones are known to increase blood sugar levels, especially when blood sugar is low. Both physical and emotional stress can prompt an increase in these hormones, resulting in an increase in blood sugar level.

How does stress affect sugar levels in people with diabetes?

Dr Pradeep Gadge: Insulin is a hormone that blunts diabetogenic effects of stress hormones including adrenaline, and cortisol. People who aren't diabetic have compensatory mechanisms to prevent their blood sugar from swinging out of control. But diabetics either have an absolute lack of insulin (in type 1 diabetes) or a relative lack of insulin (in type 2 diabetes). So, they do not have that compensatory mechanism to cope with these hormones, which results in spiking blood sugar levels under stress.
Any emotional disturbances like dissatisfaction with career or handling divorce and illnesses like pneumonia or urinary tract infection exert physical stress on the body. It's generally these longer-term stressors that have significant effects on blood sugar levels.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of diabetes.

Can you give some tips for diabetics to handle stress?

Dr Pradeep Gadge: Try to pinpoint your stressors, especially those which cause fluctuations in your blood sugar levels. Try anything that relaxes you. Here are some techniques:

  1. Practice yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.
  2. Learn cognitive behavior therapy.
  3. Talk to a therapist. Talking about your problems is a reliable way to alleviate the stress.
  4. Step back from the situation if you can't handle it.
  5. Keep up your healthy eating and exercise routine. Exercise can help you to lower blood sugar.
  6. Take up a relaxing hobby like gardening, knitting or pottery.
  7. Speak to your doctor about taking anti-anxiety/anti-depressant medications. Unfortunately various notions exist about anti-depressants, but the newer anti-depressants are absolutely safe, if prescribed judiciously.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of stress.

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