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Exercise and Diet Aren’t Enough


Author: Frank Celia
Source: Psychology Today


Researchers are slowly zeroing in on the long-suspected link between stress and type-2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 percent of all diabetes cases. Anxiety is now believed to exacerbate diabetes by raising levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which regulates insulin and blood-sugar levels.


Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle remain the most treatable factors associated with type-2 diabetes, but stress management can also be very effective, according to one study presented at the 2002 American Psychological Association annual meeting. Subjects who completed stress-management training, in which they were instructed in deep breathing and muscle relaxation, had significantly lower levels of hemoglobin. Elevated hemoglobin levels are a red flag for type-2 diabetes sufferers.


For patients already in control of their diabetes through proper diet and exercise, a reduction in stress “might bring them to near normal [hemoglobin] levels,” says lead researcher Richard Surwit, Ph.D., of Duke University Medical Center. “For those with poorer control, it probably would not lower hemoglobin levels significantly, but the reduction is associated with fewer diabetes complications for them as well.”


Researchers are also beginning to explore stress as a precursor to diabetes. Peter Vitaliano, Ph.D., of the University of Washington, compared 47 nondiabetic subjects who cared for spouses with Alzheimer’s disease to a control group of 77 non-caregivers who were also free of diabetes. Vitaliano found that levels of cortisol, glucose and insulin were higher in the caregivers than in non-caregivers. “The caregivers experienced feelings of fear, lack of control and depression, which contributed to chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. These people are at potentially higher risk for diabetes,” says Vitaliano, who presented his findings at this year’s meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. No longitudinal studies are yet under way.


“Many people don’t understand that there is a real connection between stress and diabetes–they think the only variables are diet and exercise,” says Vitaliano.


Between 1990 and 1998, type-2 diabetes increased 33 percent in the United States and was up 76 percent among people in their thirties.


Some researchers speculate that the stress of modern life and longer working hours contribute to these dramatic increases.


Nov-Dec, 2002