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Stress Can Contribute To A Higher Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes In Older Women, New Study Says

Mounting stress from traumatic events - as well as long-term situations at home or work - was associated with an almost two-fold higher risk of new type 2 diabetes cases among older women.

Obesity, high blood pressure and a sedentary lifestyle are traditional risk factors for type 2 diabetes, but a new study suggests stress may contribute to the disease in older women.

Presented in November at the American Heart Association’s  Scientific Sessions conference in Chicago, the study found mounting stress from traumatic events — as well as long-term situations at home or work — was associated with an almost two-fold higher risk of new type 2 diabetes cases among older women.

The results did not surprise Denice Taylor, a certified diabetes educator and dietitian with Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital.

“We do know from previous research that diabetes risk can be higher in older women,” says Taylor. “Sometimes it can be related to chronic stress that’s happened throughout life. It can also be related to issue with weight. Activity levels might decrease as one gets older, so those can be risk factors for developing diabetes.”

Taylor says stress not only can contribute to development of diabetes, it can lead to difficulty in making the right lifestyle choices to manage the disease.

“People who have accepted it are getting education, they’re getting help, doing the right healthy behaviors,” says Taylor. "That positive approach to keep good blood sugar levels is important.”

Interview highlights

How stress contributes to diabetes: We know the alpha cells of the pancreas release a hormone called glucagon. That tells our liver to release some stored gloucose. That extra glucose gets into our blood and potentially can get into our body cells for energy. The problem is when that glucose stays in the blood that could put a person at risk for diabetes.

Can stress raise blood sugar levels? Yes. The body feels it can use that extra glucose, but sometimes it just stays in the blood. Strategies to get that glucose out of the blood can include:

  • Being physically active
  • Trying remain at a healthy weight
  • Maintaining a healthy diet

The effect of stress on maintaining healthy behaviors: When someone’s going through stressful times, they may be preoccupied with the stress itself and less likely to follow a healthy diet or be active, or just sit around and do unhealthy behaviors like a little more screen time. The blood sugars may rise as a result of the body making more glucose in times of stress.

The stress of simply having diabetes: This depends on the level of acceptance. People who have accepted it are getting education, and they’re getting help. They're doing right, healthy behaviors. That positive approach to doing the right thing – which is to keep good blood sugar levels – is important.

Why it’s a struggle for many: People can be very busy. They can have some financial challenges, time challenges. We have to realize people sometimes need to prioritize. Even as life changes and life gets more challenging, it can be more difficult for people. But it goes back to accepting it and getting help, getting education on what to do during times of stress.


AHA: Stress May Raise Type 2 Diabetes Risk in Women
Stress increases the risk of type 2 diabetes onset in women: A 12-year longitudinal study using causal modelling
Diabetes: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
How Stress Hormones Raise Blood Sugar
Stress: American Diabetes Association

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.