New research indicates there’s a clear connection between the stress hormone cortisol and elevated blood sugar levels in people living with type 2 diabetes.
A study recently published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that those who exhibited flatter cortisol profiles had higher blood glucose (sugar) levels. Cortisol levels that appear to remain flat throughout the day are often a result of high stress levels and even depression. According to the findings, having sustained levels of cortisol can make it more challenging to regulate blood sugar levels and ultimately manage diabetes. (Related: 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time)
“In healthy people, cortisol fluctuates naturally throughout the day, spiking in the morning and falling at night,” Dr. Joshua J. Joseph, an endocrinologist and researcher at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center who led the study, said. “But in participants with type 2 diabetes, cortisol profiles that were flatter throughout the day had higher glucose levels.”
Joseph said there are four pillars of diabetes management: diet, physical activity, sleep, and stress. Stress is a factor that’s often forgotten about and loosely understood, which is what prompted him to study its relationship with blood glucose levels. All participants in the study had diabetes, and those who consistently experienced stress or depression had sustained cortisol levels. However, rhythm in cortisol levels appears to be very important in multiple health outcomes, according to Joseph.
The researchers also believe that cortisol may play a role not only in diabetes management but also prevention. However, more research is necessary to confirm this hypothesis. Until then, Joseph tells his patients with type 2 diabetes to manage stress and depressive symptoms by periodically taking time to relax and doing an activity that makes them happy.
“We have begun a new trial to examine if mindfulness practices can lower blood sugar in those with type 2 diabetes,” Joseph said. “But this isn’t the only effective form of stress relief. It’s important to find something you enjoy, and make it a part of your everyday routine.”
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