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Type 2 Diabetes and Stress, Men Beware

Type 2 diabetes and stress

The most commonly known risk factor for type 2 diabetes is obesity, but men in particular should are aware of another potential issue: stress. A new large study found that men who experience permanent stress have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than do men who report little or occasional stress.

How serious is permanent stress?

Permanent stress, or chronic stress, has been shown to have a significant impact on health in people of all ages. Some of the more common ailments associated with chronic stress are headache and migraine, gastrointestinal disorders such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.

Chronic stress also plays a significant part in emotional and mental health, and it has the power to disrupt a person’s social, personal, financial, and spiritual well-being. Too much stress has even been shown to shrink the brain.

Type 2 diabetes and stress
The new finding concerning permanent or chronic stress evolved as the result of a 35-year prospective follow-up study of 7,500 men conducted by investigators at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Of that number, 6,828 men who had no history of diabetes, stroke, or coronary artery disease were part of the final analysis.

At the start of the study, 15.5 percent of the men said they experienced permanent or chronic stress associated with home or work situations during the past 1 to 5 years. Over the follow-up period, type 2 diabetes developed in 899 of the participants.

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Analysis showed that men who said they experienced permanent stress had a 45 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than did men who said they were not stressed or only experienced stress periodically. Since the study involved men only, it is not known if the results apply to women as well.

Good news about this study
If there’s one good thing about this study, it’s that stress can be managed. According to the study leader, Masuma Novak, “Today, stress is not recognized as a preventable cause of diabetes.” However, the results of this study show “an independent link between permanent stress and the risk of developing diabetes.”

Therefore, men (and women) can take steps to reduce and manage the stress in their lives as a way to help prevent type 2 diabetes as well as other health problems.

Along with stress management, which may include activities such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, exercise, progressive relaxation, tai chi, and massage, there are other lifestyle changes people can make to eliminate or reduce the impact of other risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

  • Lose weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. A combination of a healthy low-fat, high-fiber diet and regular exercise can help you achieve this goal. Speaking of diet, a 2011 Harvard study noted that eating processed meats such as hot dogs may raise your risk of type 2 diabetes by 50 percent.
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure. A healthy diet along with exercise can go a long way toward lowering and maintaining normal blood pressure and may eliminate the need for blood pressure medications.
  • Maintain healthy glucose levels. Again, proper diet and exercise are effective ways to manage this type 2 diabetes risk. A number of natural supplements also may be helpful (e.g., fenugreek, licorice root, curcumin), but be sure to consult your healthcare provider before taking these or other supplements.
  • Lower your cholesterol levels. Although eating a low-cholesterol diet is important when trying to lower cholesterol levels, it’s also helpful to maintain a regular exercise routine and to quit smoking. Natural supplements, such as artichoke leaf extract, also may be beneficial. These measures may help you avoid taking cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins.
  • Exercise. It’s already been said several times, but regular exercise is critical for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease associated with significant and life-altering complications. Men should be aware that permanent stress may be a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and that they can take steps to avoid and manage it.

Novak M et al. Perceived stress and incidence of type 2 diabetes: a 35-year follow-up study of middle-aged Swedish men. Diabetic Medicine 2013; 30(1): e8

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