Stressed at Work? You May Be At Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Increased stress on the job can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Stress affects your body's ability to control blood sugar levels, leading to elevated levels in some people.

Everyone experiences some level of stress on the job. But those who feel they are in a pressure-cooker job with little control over their situation may be at increased risk for developing  type 2 diabetes.

This new finding is from a study of over 5,300 workers between the ages of 29 and 66 years who participated in a 13-year long study of health risk factors. The researchers, headed by Dr. Cornelia Huth and Prof. Karl-Heinz Ladwig, found that  individuals who are under a high level of pressure at work and at the same time perceive little control over the activities they perform face about a 45% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who are subjected to less stress at their workplace.

At the beginning of the study, none of the employees had diabetes, while over the course of the study, almost 300 individuals were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, noted the researchers from the Institute of Epidemiology II (EPI II) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU), a partner of the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD). The increased risk in work-related stress and diabetes was not influenced by other risk factors such as obesity, age, or gender. Meaning that stress alone can increase a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

"According to our data, roughly 1 in 5 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 maneuver or for decision making. We covered both these aspects in great detail in our surveys," explained Prof. Ladwig, who led the study. "In view of the huge health implications of stress-related disorders, preventive measures to prevent common diseases such as diabetes should therefore also begin at this point," he added.

Relationship Between Stress and Diabetes

In this prospective population study, the authors classified high job demands with low job control as “high job strain,” noted Tamara L. Wexler, MD, PhD. Job conditions were gleaned from self-administered questionnaires; individuals were not queried as to subjective experience of stress. For all included subjects, diabetes diagnoses were reported by survey then confirmed by medical record or personnel.  Of those in the High Job Strain group, there was a 6.7% incidence of type 2 diabetes in the ensuing 1.1-18.2 years, compared to 4.2% in the lowest strain group and 5.6% in the interim groups (P = 0.28); the relative risk was somewhat attenuated by socioeconomic variables, and increased with job strain classified as severe (>1 S.D.) on a continuous scale.

The study shows an association between high job strain and developing type 2 diabetes—not a causal relationship, added Dr. Wexler.  "There is medical basis for an association, as cortisol, the “stress hormone,” while playing an important role in supporting health at normal levels, can also promote higher blood glucose at higher levels.  As noted, there may also be an indirect effect, as individuals may behave differently in terms of diet and exercise during periods of high stress; exercise, in addition to lowering feelings of stress, is one way to help normalize blood glucose levels."

How Stress Affects Diabetes

Stress affects people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, noted Bonnie Sanders Polin, PhD, In people with diabetes, stress can alter the blood glucose levels in two ways, she noted:

"First, people under stress may not take care of themselves. They may eat more and exercise less. They may forget or feel they do not have time to check blood glucose levels or plan for healthy meals.

Second, stress can change blood glucose levels directly. Scientists have studied the effects of stress on glucose levels in both animals and people. Diabetic mice have elevated glucose levels when under physical or mental stress."

How to Reduce Stress on the Job

Here are 4 tips on how to  reduce stress on the job:

  • Take frequent short breaks during the work day, if possible. This could include taking 2 minutes to practice deep breathing exercises at your desk, stretching, or walking to get water.
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegtebles
  • Practice short meditations where you can clear your mind of outside thoughts
  • Exercise either before or after work. This does not have to be strenuous, even a 15 to 20 minute walk, swim, or bike can help release the tension of the day.



Updated on: April 29, 2016
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