3 ways stress affects diabetes
Staying cool under pressure is an important part of managing your blood sugar. Here are three surprising ways stress affects diabetes, and how to keep it under control
Eating right and getting your body in motion every day are pillars of any program for managing diabetes or losing weight. A third element that may be just as important is getting a handle on stress.
Research is now beginning to reveal just how important stress management is when it comes to diabetes. One study, at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, found that when people used easy relaxation techniques, they dropped their A1C numbers (an indication of blood sugar levels over a period of several months) significantly. In fact, about a third of the volunteers lowered their A1C levels by one percent or more after a year—an effect on a par with that of diabetes drugs. And those results were beyond what they gained through diet and exercise.
Here are three ways that stress can impact your diabetes, and how to keep it in check.
1. Stress hormones raise blood sugar
Why does taming tension bring blood sugar down? A number of factors appear to be at work. First, when you're on edge, your body pumps out stress hormones, such as cortisol, to help you react to danger (part of the "fight or flight" response). Among other things, these hormones make your heartbeat and breathing speed up. They also send glucose stores into the blood to make energy immediately available to your muscles. The result: higher blood sugar.
2. Stress contributes to insulin resistance
That's bad enough when you have diabetes, but there's more: Stress hormones also make it more difficult for the pancreas to secrete the insulin that's needed to move glucose out of the blood. Some of these hormones may also contribute to insulin resistance—a triple whammy.
3. Stress leads to weight gain
A major reason to keep chronic stress in check is that cortisol is known to increase appetite. Yes, that's right: Stress makes you eat more. It also encourages cells in your abdomen to conserve fat—in other words, it packs on the belly weight that seriously raises your risk of a heart attack. Regularly practicing our relaxation methods will help lower your levels of stress hormones to reverse this trend. It should also help you stick to your eating and exercise goals.
Think about it: When you're stressed, you're probably tempted to chow down on whatever fatty, high-calorie snacks are in reach. You're also less likely to stop and think about hitting the pavement for a nice, long walk when you're busy fretting over deadlines, family problems, or that fight with your spouse. When you practice the art of relaxation, you'll step back and see the big picture, and your true priorities—including taking care of your body—will emerge. Mastering stress has other beneficial "side effects." Specifically, it helps ward off emotional problems that are linked with poor blood sugar control, particularly depression and anger.
Track your sugar—and your stress level
Studies find that stress affects blood sugar differently from one person to the next. How do your sugar levels change when you're all charged up? To find out, each time you check your glucose level, rate how stressed you feel at that moment on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a sunny day at the beach and 10 being the worst day of your life. Write the number down next to your reading. After two weeks, look at the numbers together (plotting them on a graph can help) to see how much your blood sugar swings in response to various levels of stress.
Looking for more tips on managing your diabetes? Check out All-New, All-Natural Approach to Beating Diabetes, available now in the Best Health Store.