(Image from Unsplash.com courtesy of engin akyurt)

Stress can have a bad effect on blood sugars. This is true whether or not you are currently living with borderline or type 2 diabetes. We all know on an intuitive level that stress affects our overall health and wellbeing. Stress also has a huge impact on metabolic health. For many of us, during this covid19 pandemic, this is has been a very stressful time, filled with a lot of uncertainty.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, I hosted a webinar called “Thriving Through Change“.  During the webinar, I spoke about the different types of change.

How we each perceive change is intensely personal. 

We see change as either good or bad. The change we perceive as bad is because it is disruptive.  An example of disruptive change is what many of us may be currently facing, such as shelter in place orders several states have instituted here in the United States. The disruptive change that this pandemic has caused increases our body’s response to stress through what is called the stress response.

The Stress Response

The stress response is the way the body responds to stress. It is regulated by a network of hormones that set up a cascade of reactions that affect how our body functions in response to the stress.

 

The stress response performs a good purpose. For instance, we need to feel stress when we are being outrun by the infamous ‘saber-tooth tiger’. We absolutely need our stress response at that point. Or else we will be some animal’s dinner.

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Here are some of the things we may experience with the stress response

  • Our heart pounding in our chest.
  • Our blood vessels narrow, to pump blood more efficiently.
  • We take deep and faster breaths.
  • Blood is diverted away from our digestive system to our muscles so that we can run if we need to.
  • The liver converts it’s glycogen stores into glucose which is the fuel we need.

In pre-historic times, we absolutely needed a heightened stress response in order to survive. The stress response is not only caused by physical stress but also by mental and emotional stress.

The problem is the body does not know the difference between when we are facing a saber tooth tiger or the stress of the uncertainty many of us may be facing in this current pandemic.

The stress response is built for when there is an immediate need or imminent danger. For instance, let’s say you are about to compete in a race. The stress response is needed to do all those functions listed above. The key hormone in the stress response is cortisol which helps the body recruit much-needed glucose as fuel.

 

Chronic Stress and Blood Sugar Control and Our Immune Health

Now we understand that a surge in blood sugars is normal with the stress response. So if I were to check the blood sugar level of an athlete about to run a marathon, I would expect to find a blood sugar level say in the high normal range. This does not mean that they have type 2 diabetes. This is simply caused by the effect that the cortisol surge has on their body. After the initial danger has passed then the blood sugars come back to normal.

The problem is sustained or chronic stress. Chronic or sustained stress can cause a persistent rise in our blood sugars. This is true not only in people living with diabetes type 2, but also others with normal blood sugar control (1,2).

Another way that chronic stress directly increases blood sugars is through ‘stress eating’. Most times when we stress eat, we crave simple sugars (carbohydrates) which has a direct impact on raising our blood sugars.

Chronic stress can also affect our immune health. It does this by promoting low-grade inflammation in our bodies. This low-grade inflammation alters the way that our immune system functions. This alteration places us at an increased risk of infections.

We already know that people with co-existing conditions such as the elderly, people with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease to name a few are at an increased risk of Covid-19 infection.

It is my prediction that following the covid-19 pandemic, there will be a sharp rise in metabolic diseases such as obesity, borderline diabetes, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and heart disease if we do not mitigate the impact of stress on the entire human race.

 

In my next article, I will examine ways we can reduce the effect of stress on our immune health as well as our blood sugars.

Until next time, Stay safe and Be well

 

References:

1. The impact of stress on body function

2 Stress and blood sugar control in type II diabetes

3. Resilience and Immunity

4. Relationship between moderate exercise and upper respiratory infections