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Family Stress May Dovetail With Diabetes

Stress Can Cause Insulin Resistance, May Lead to Vulnerability to Type 1 Diabetes
WebMD Health News

Feb. 11, 2005 -- Stress doesn't just frazzle families; it may also nudge them toward diabetes.

Psychological stress is a notorious health hazard. It takes its toll on the heart as well as the emotions, and it's also been tied to pain, sleep problems, and troubles with hormones and with the ability to fight illnesses.

Stress can also trigger insulin resistance that may lead to type 1 diabetes, Swedish researchers say in February's issue of Diabetes Care.

The cause of type 1 diabetes isn't known. Neither are the ways that stress affects the disease. Possibly, stress increases insulin resistance, putting pressure on insulin-producing beta-cells, say the researchers.

In type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system destroys beta-cells. This leaves the body unable to make enough insulin to manage blood sugar levels. Add stress to that scenario, and the beta-cells may be even more vulnerable.

Many factors can influence the development of diabetes. Genetics may push some people toward the disease. Extensive weight gain can also prompt insulin resistance. Other environmental factors including viral infections have also been explored for type 1 diabetes.

Curbing Stress

You can't change your genes, but it's possible to ease other diabetes risk factors, including weight problems and stress.

Both physical and emotional stress can spike your blood sugar. It's impossible to totally avoid stress. You can't live in a bubble to insulate yourself from problems, and issues aren't always under your control.

But improving your stress management skills makes it easier to ride out life's ups and downs whether you have diabetes or not.

Meditation and counseling could make a difference. So can journaling, voicing your feelings in a positive and respectful manner, and finding activities you love. Exercise is another great stress reliever, and it has plenty of other health perks, including targeting any extra pounds.

Families, Stress and Diabetes

It can be hard to find time to work out or relax. But if those things seem like luxuries requiring more leisure time than you have, consider this: Defusing stress could help protect your family from diabetes.

Children with antibodies seen in people with type 1 diabetes were more likely to come from families under stress, say Swedish researchers including Anneli Sepa, PhD, of the Diabetes Research Centre at Sweden's Linköping University.

Sepa and colleagues interviewed the parents of 4,400 Swedish 1-year-olds about stress. Topics included parenting stress, serious life events (such as divorce or death of a close relative), social support, confidence, and whether the child needed neonatal intensive care at birth. The parents' education levels, employment status, and immigrant status were also noted.

All of those factors can strain families, and even babies can pick up on that, say the researchers. Since babies must be physically close to their parents for survival, they're sensitive to parental moods, signals, and behaviors, say the researchers. "The infants sense the stress experienced by the parents," they write.

Taking blood samples from the children, the researchers found the connection between disease-related antibodies and stressed families.

The antibodies didn't necessarily condemn the children to diabetes.

"The occurrence of beta-cell autoantibodies ... at one year of age does not imply a high risk of type 1 diabetes," write the researchers. "Most of these infants will probably never develop the manifest disease," they write, calling for longer studies to track family stress and type 1 diabetes in children over time.

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