Why it’s particularly important for diabetics to manage stress during the pandemic

Janice Harris listens to music to relax and de-stress. A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds stress relief is critical to managing Type 2 diabetes, finding a direct link between cortisol and glucose levels. (Courtesy The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center)

New findings linking the stress hormone cortisol and blood sugar levels have important implications for people with Type 2 diabetes: Sustained levels of cortisol over time can cause increases in their glucose levels, according to a new study.

“We know that in diabetes that is particularly an issue because higher glucoses are associated with many things, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and eye disease, said Dr. Joshua J. Joseph, an assistant professor in the Ohio State College of Medicine.

Joseph is an endocrinologist and researcher at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center. He led the six-year study.

“Strategies that improve both cortisol and stress are really key at this time,” Joseph said.

He recommends people with Type 2 diabetes actively find ways to relax that might include using mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, yoga, message therapy, taking a walk, reading a book or listening to music.

“We know that one of the critical factors for individuals with diabetes in the pandemic is controlling their blood sugars,” Joseph said.

Diabetes doesn’t increase risk for contracting COVID-19, but it can lead to worse outcomes.

“There’s higher risk of longer length of stay in the hospital, as well as needing intensive care unit beds and just greater morbidity and mortality,” Joseph noted.

Joseph said this latest research shows the importance of the mind/body connection that new research is exploring more fully.

“We currently have another study ongoing looking at mindfulness-based cognition therapy for depressive symptoms and Type 2 diabetes,” Joseph said, noting that it’s being led by a
psychologist. “This is just one more avenue where individuals can improve not only depressive symptoms in stress, but also their blood sugars.”

Dr. Joshua J. Joseph explains how cortisol can be good or bad, depending on the body producing it

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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