COLUMBUS, Ohio — We’re living in particularly stressful times but managing the stress is important for overall well-being and presenting a wide range of serious health issues that can accompany high stress, including high blood pressure and heart disease.
A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that stress can be especially detrimental for the more than 30 million Americans who are living with Type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Joshua Joseph, an endocrinologist at The Ohio State University who led the recent study, said that there are four important pillars of diabetes management and stress is the one that often gets looked over.
"One, physical activity. Two, diet. The third one we talk about is sleep. So making sure individuals get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. And then the fourth one we talk about is stress,” Joseph said.
Joseph, alongside other researchers, studied the effects of stress on those with Type 2 diabetes by measuring their levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
In healthy people, cortisol levels have natural peaks and valleys, but the study showed that diabetics who consistently experienced stress or depression had sustained cortisol levels throughout the day.
"What we saw was that those who had a flattening of that rhythm, so they didn't have as great of a peak and they didn't get as low in the evening, that they had increased glucose over the same time period. So there was an association between the change in cortisol as well as the change in glucose," Joseph said.
Janice Harris tests her levels about three to four times a day, but beyond testing, she enjoys listening to her favorite playlist during the day to de-stress and try to keep her blood sugar at a normal level.
"I'll even listen to music at work, try and listen to music to calm down so that I'm not so out there and my blood sugars are normal so that it's not a problem during the day," Harris said.
Joseph took his original study and is now leading a new research trial that will examine whether mindful meditation, and actions like Harris', can lower stress in those with Type 2 diabetes, which would, in turn, lower their blood sugar.
"I can tell you that from clinically the patients I see with diabetes, that among those patients who have high levels of stress and high levels of depression, especially during those times when they're having a difficult time controlling that, that their blood sugar numbers do go up," Joseph said. "Anyone with diabetes, my recommendation would be to control levels of stress and to control depression. That can be through various lifestyle behaviors that we all do, but that can also be through medications for some individuals."
During the study, researchers didn’t find that cortisol affected glucose levels in people without diabetes, however, many believe cortisol plays an important role in preventing the disease from developing and continue to research the connection.