Study shows work stress can increase risk of type 2 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on August 18, 2014

Work-related stress can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 45%, according to a new study.

A team of researchers from the Institute of Epidemiology at Helmholtz Zentrum München in Germany looked at 5,337 people without type 2 diabetes between ages 29 to 66 and monitored their health over an average of 12.7 years.


Work-related stress can increase type 2 diabetes risk by 45%

They found that 291 developed type 2 diabetes and that those with the most stressful jobs, such as waiters, clothes makers and telephone operators, had a 45% higher risk.

They also found that one in five workers was affected by a high amount of mental strain at work. This was particularly associated with the demands of the job combined with minimal elements of control or decision making.

‘In view of the huge health implications of stress-related disorders, preventive measures to prevent common diseases such as diabetes should be looked at,’ said lead researcher, professor Karl-Heinz Ladwig.

He pointed out that it has been well documented that workplace stress can have a range of adverse effects on health, including an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, but this is the first time it has been linked with type 2 diabetes.

He also explained that the increase in risk in work-related stress was identified independently of classic risk factors such as obesity, age or gender. It’s not clear how high levels of job strain lead to diabetes, but it’s possible that constant exposure to raised levels of stress hormones upsets the body’s glucose balance. High blood glucose levels can damage the body’s circulation and major organs.

‘According to our data, roughly one in five employed people are affected by high levels of mental stress at work. By that, scientists do not mean normal job stress, but rather, the situation in which the individuals concerned rate the demands made upon them as very high, and at the same time they have little scope for manoeuver or for decision making,’ said Ladwig.

Dr. Alasdair Rankin, director of research at leading charity Diabetes UK, welcomed the fact that scientists are beginning to investigate the role that stress and long working hours play in the development of the condition.

‘A lot of these factors have been shown to be associated with type 2 diabetes, but it can be hard to tell whether that is through a direct effect on our bodies, or whether these factors make us less likely to look after our health in other ways,’ he said.

‘More research is needed to understand whether that is important and why. Managing stress in the workplace is sensible and important and we know that the best way to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes is to manage your weight, by eating a healthy balanced diet and doing regular exercise,’ he added.

The aim of the Helmholtz Zentrum München, a partner of the German Centre for Diabetes Research (DZD), is to develop new approaches to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of the most common diseases.

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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