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Search Health Information    Ease Stress to Improve Blood Sugar Levels
 Diabetes Center Feature Story

Ease Stress to Improve Blood Sugar Levels
Taking action may help stave off diabetes

Ease Stress to Improve Blood Sugar Levels(HealthDay News) -- If you're a bundle of nerves, diet, exercise and medication may not be enough to keep diabetes at bay.

Research suggests that stress plays a role in boosting blood glucose, or sugar, levels and raising the risk for type 2 diabetes.

"While we don't fully understand the nature of the association, women with abdominal obesity may be more vulnerable to the impact of stress -- causing their body to increase blood sugar production and elevating their risk for diabetes," Anastasia Georgiades, an assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and the study's lead author, said in a news release.

Stresses, such as physical injury or mental duress, trigger the body's "fight-or-flight" response. Hormone levels surge, causing the body to store up energy in the form of glucose and fat, according to the American Diabetes Association. However, in people with diabetes, there might not be enough insulin available to allow the extra energy into the cells so sugar piles up in the blood.

According to the association, stress can alter blood sugar levels in people with diabetes in two ways:

  • People under stress might not take good care of themselves. They might drink more alcohol, exercise less or fail to check their glucose levels or plan good meals.
  • Stress hormones might also alter blood glucose levels directly.
In people with type 2 diabetes, mental stress often raises blood glucose levels, the Diabetes Association reports. Physical stress, including illness or injury, can cause higher blood glucose levels in people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the association says.

For the Duke study, 62 healthy black women who did not have diabetes were asked to recall stressful events in their lives. While they did that, researchers measured their levels of blood sugar and epinephrine, a hormone released in reaction to stress.

While recalling stressful events, those with high epinephrine levels and with more belly fat had significantly higher fasting glucose scores -- about 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) -- than women with lower epinephrine levels and less belly fat.

People with a fasting glucose score of 100 mg/dL are considered to have a form of pre-diabetes called impaired fasting glucose, according to the U.S. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. A score of 126 mg/dL or above, confirmed by a follow-up test on another day, means that a person has diabetes.

To make changes in your life to ease stress that could lead to lower blood glucose levels and less diabetes risk, the American Diabetes Association suggests that people:

  • Find ways to reduce mental stress. If traffic upsets you, for example, find a new route to work. If job stress is getting you down, talk with your boss about how to improve things. Try beating back stress by joining a sports team, taking dance lessons, learning a hobby or craft or volunteering.
  • Alter your coping style. By adopting a problem-solving attitude, you might be able to change a situation and get rid of the stress. Or try accepting a problem as something that isn't so bad after all. People who use such coping methods tend to have lower blood sugar elevation in reaction to stress.
  • Learn to relax. Relaxation might dampen your body's sensitivity to stress hormones. Try breathing exercises, progressive relaxation therapy (a technique that involves tensing, then relaxing, the muscles) or exercise. Replacing bad thoughts with good ones also might help.

On the Web

To learn more about managing or relieving stress, check out information from the Rhode Island Department of Health.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; American Psychosomatic Society, news release, March 4, 2009; U.S. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov); American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org)
Author: Karen Pallarito
Publication Date: March 31, 2010
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