Scientists find type 2 diabetics cope less well with stress

by Barbara Hewitt on October 23, 2014

People with type 2 diabetes are less physically able to recover from stress and are more prone to pessimism and depression, new research has found.

The findings of a study by scientists at University College London and the University of Zurich, funded by the British Heart Foundation, could lead to new approaches in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

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Type 2 diabetics were less able to bring their blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels back to normal after a stressful test

The idea is that treatment should target the wide number of biological changes that take place as a result of type 2 diabetes.

The research study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, compared 420 adults, between 50 and 75 years old, matching participants’ age, gender and income.

It found that those with type 2 diabetes were less able to bring their blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels back to normal after a stressful test.

The participants with type 2 diabetes also exhibited higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood, alongside higher levels of a protein involved in the immune response, called IL-6.

The study says that a combination of all these factors could lead to increased strain on the body as it tries to maintain a stable internal environment. However, while it shows a link between the biological processes involved in stress and type 2 diabetes, the results do not demonstrate that extra strain on the body from stress is either a cause or consequence of type 2 diabetes.

Lead researcher Professor Andrew Steptoe, BHF Professor of Psychology and Director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at UCL, explained that the study highlights the potential of treatments that target both the psychological and physical effects of illness.

‘Our study is the first to link psychological stress with the underlying biology, and show that there is a difference in the biological response to stress of people who have diabetes and those who don’t,’ he said.

‘Exploring exactly how stress affects the body at this level is a step towards identifying better ways of managing people’s risk of diabetes,’ he added.

Dr. Sanjay Thakrar, research adviser at the BHF, pointed out that diabetes is a known risk factor for coronary heart disease, but the role of stress is less defined. ‘This study highlights the need for a multi-faceted approach to treating diabetes,’ he said.

‘People cope with stress in many different ways. Notably, a balanced diet and regular physical activity will not only help you deal with stress, but also improve your heart health,’ he added.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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