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Living Well

To Beat Diabetes, Lower Your Stress

Last updated: Jul 11, 2016

Jim Hurtado, a Fanwood resident, has worked out his entire life.  At the gym, he runs five miles and lifts weights six days a week.  At age 51, he looked great, but he felt unwell.

“I wasn’t overweight, but I found out in 2012 during a doctor’s visit that I had a dangerously high blood sugar level of over 600,” Hurtado says.

The problem? Stress.

“As a building designer and contractor, I’m always juggling projects and trying to get paid—and when the checks come in late, it stresses me out,” he explained.  

Stress and Diabetes

StressDoctors know that managing stress is one of the keys to staying healthy, no matter who you are—but for diabetics, stress management is especially important.

When people are stressed, a fight-or-flight response kicks in, sending hormone levels soaring.

“Stress is a cause of chronic inflammation,” says Dr. Bauman, an endocrinologist at Summit Medical Group. “We know that inflammation on a cellular level plays a role in many common health conditions, including diabetes.  Learning how to manage stress is very important for people with diabetes.”

Mr. Hurtado’s blood sugar levels went back to normal for several years after his initial diagnosis.  But a few months ago, he saw his weight plummet more than 20 pounds, and he knew something was wrong. 

He sought out Dr. Bauman, who diagnosed him with Type 2.  He put Mr. Hurtado on oral medication and recommended an eating regimen of five small meals per day, as well as the continuation of his exercise.  He also suggested that Mr. Hurtado lower the level of stress in his life.

Stress and blood glucose levels

According to the American Diabetes Association, increased stress can raise blood glucose levels in several ways, including:

  • Lack of self-care.  When people are stressed, they have less time to pay attention to what they eat, have meals at healthy intervals, or exercise.
  • Increase in alcohol consumption.
  • Forgetting to check blood glucose levels.
  • Increase of stress hormones that raise blood glucose levels directly. (1)

 “People with Type 2 diabetes are more susceptible to the effects of stress,” said Dr. Bauman.  “Emotional stress or physical stress, such as an illness or an operation can cause higher blood glucose levels.”

Lower Stress Levels

Small changes in lifestyle are significant in stress reduction.  These may include:

  • Meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Yoga
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Reading for pleasure
  • Relaxing activities like knitting or playing a board game

“You don’t have to change the way you live overnight,” says Dr. Bauman. “Start in small steps like taking a walk every day, drinking more water, and eating a healthy diet.

Mr. Hurtado followed Dr. Bauman’s advice and put more relaxation into his life.  Today, he checks his blood sugar levels and uses medication when they get too high.

“I am always self-checking,” he said. “If my blood sugar is between 105 and 120,” I’m fine without the medication.  If it goes over that, I know I have to take it.”

He reports that less stress means feeling a lot better both physically and emotionally.

“I try to diffuse my stress levels,” says Hurtado.  In addition to exercising, I get acupuncture and try to relax more.  It’s made a world of difference.”

Sources:

1.American Diabetes Association, http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/mental-health/stress.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

2. Interview with Jeffrey Bauman, MD, SMG endocrinologist

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