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Inability to Cope with Stress Linked to Increased Risk for Diabetes

CardioSmart News

How well we’re equipped to deal with stress may impact risk for diabetes, based on results of a large Swedish study published in the European journal Diabetologia.

Diabetes is a chronic condition in which blood sugar levels are too high, increasing risk for heart disease and other complications. The good news is that type 2 diabetes—the most common type of diabetes—is largely preventable through healthy lifestyle choices. By staying active and maintaining a healthy weight, individuals can drastically reduce risk for type 2 diabetes and improve overall health.

But what about the link between mental health and risk for diabetes? A number of studies suggest that factors like stress and depression may be associated with risk for chronic diseases like diabetes. However, the link between mental health and diabetes risk is unclear.

To learn more, researchers analyzed health data from more than 1.5 million men in the Swedish military between 1969 and 1997. Upon enrollment, participants underwent a 20–30 minute interview with a trained psychologist to assess their ability to cope with stress. Participants were asked questions about emotions, social maturity and ability to handle conflict. Based on responses, participants were then assigned with an overall score, ranging from 1–9. Low scores indicate an inability to cope with stress, while higher scores indicate stronger coping mechanisms for stress.

Men were then followed for key health outcomes like type 2 diabetes from 1987–2012. Most men were 18 years old at the beginning of the study and followed for as long as 44 years.

After analysis, researchers found that men with the lowest stress resilience scores at the start of the study were 1.5 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than men with the highest scores. Overall, the better participants could handle stress, the lower their risk for diabetes.

Findings add to a growing body of evidence that mental health is closely linked to risk for chronic conditions like diabetes. In this study, findings suggest that the ability to cope with stress is an important factor related to diabetes risk.  Other studies also suggest that low stress resilience is linked to increased risk for heart disease, stroke and other types of diseases. However, authors highlight the need for additional research to better understand the association between mental health and chronic conditions like diabetes.

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