Wellness Blog

Low Resistance to Stress may Increase Your Risk of Type-2 Diabetes

Posted on March 13, 2016 at 1:15 AM

Diabetes continues to be an increasing health challenge. Multiple factors have been found to be contributors in the development of this chronic condition. Now information reveals stress we may endure may also be a risk factor depending on our stress resilience. In a study conducted from 1967 to 2012, a group of men were evaluated for stress resilience at a young age (18) and then followed to track development of diabetes. The study gathered baseline data from 1967 to 1997 on Swedish men who had no previous diagnosis of diabetes. A standardized psychological assessment for stress resilience on a scale of 1 to 9 was conducted.

Low stress resilience was associated with an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes after adjusting for body mass index (BMI), family history of diabetes, and individual and neighborhood socioeconomic factors. The study also showed the 20% of men with the lowest resistance to stress (scores 1 to 3) were significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with diabetes than the 20% with the highest resistance to stress (scores 7 to 9). Researchers also found that the diabetes risk decreased in a linear fashion with increased resistance to stress, and there was a linear trend in risk across the full range of stress resilience. Stress has been linked to development of many health conditions. This study has indicated a direct link between how we deal with stress at a younger age can impact development of diabetes later in life. This information is further backed up by a second study following men with permanent stress and increased incidence rates of type-2 diabetes. The researchers found that men who reported permanent stress had a 45% increased risk for developing diabetes compared with men who reported having no stress or periodic stress, after adjustment for age, socioeconomic status, physical activity, BMI, systolic blood pressure, and use of blood pressure-lowering medication. Why?

Low stress resilience may contribute to the development of diabetes through unhealthy lifestyle factors, such as physical inactivity and unhealthy diet, as well as other physiologic hormonal factors, such as increased cortisol levels that contribute to insulin resistance. Stress is also associated with increases in certain hormones, including catecholamines, cortisones, and thyroid hormones. Stress can become debilitating.

Chronic stressors can lead to loss of motivation and even depression; thereby changing daily lifestyle factors. Likewise, chronic stress keeps a steady flow of cortisol pumping in the body. Cortisol is part of the “flight or fight” response in the body. When activated it prepares the body for action. However, if no action is really needed, then a redistribution of fat may occur. The “extra” energy created and not used is stored as body fat. Excess body fat is a contributor to insulin resistance and increased risk for developing diabetes. Simply stated, chronic stress and low stress resistance favor hyperglycemia (high blood glucose).

Break the cycle of stress. With diabetes rapidly increasing, it is important to take a closer look at stress management for people of all ages. Simple strategies to develop coping mechanisms to reduce negative reactive responses to stress are essential. By developing high resilience to stressors we may reduce another factor contributing to health declines—including diabetes development.

Dianna Richardson, ND 2/21/2016


Crump C, Sundquist J, Winkleby MA, Sundquist K. Stress resilience and subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes in 1.5 million young men. Diabetologia. 2016. doi:10.1007/s00125-015-3846-7.

Novak M, Björck L, Giang KW, Heden-Ståhl C, Wilhelmsen L, Rosengren A. Perceived stress and incidence of Type 2 diabetes: a 35-year follow-up study of middle-aged Swedish men. Diabet Med. 2013;30(1):e8-e16. doi:10.1111/dme.12037.

Winning A, Glymour MM, McCormick MC, Gilsanz P, Kubzansky LD. Psychological Distress Across the Life Course and Cardiometabolic Risk: Findings From the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;66(14):1577-1586. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2015.08.021.

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