People diagnosed with diabetes are likely to experience episodes of anxiety, according to a new study authored by researchers from Rice University.
The scientists, led by Kyle Murdock, who works as an assistant professor at the University’s lab, say there is a direct connection between emotional stress and diabetes, which is thought to be as a result of the brain’s ability to cope with stress.
Anxiety and the Brain
Dealing with anxiety involves the brains’ executive functions including inhibition, working memory and attention as well as cognitive reasoning. The brain’s executive functions are also an integral part of reasoning, planning and problem-solving.
Murdock and team believe that a person who has poor health is susceptible to a metabolic chain reaction that increases the risk of getting distracted or developing unwanted thoughts. It is this vulnerability that causes anxiety, promotes inflammation and improves the patient’s risk of type 2 diabetes.
To come to this conclusion, the researchers conducted a cognitive test to measure attention control. They also measured levels of glucose and interleukin- 6 (IL-) in more than 800 individuals. Interleukin- 6 is a protein produced naturally in the body and is responsible for stimulating immune response and healing.
The protein is also a biomarker of severe and chronic stress; two conditions often cited as risk factors for diabetes and high blood glucose.
The study established that participants with little inhibition are at an increased risk of having diabetes in comparison to people with high restraint because of the pathway from high anxiety to IL-6. The results were constant even when other tests such are problem-solving, and memory was carried out.
Even though scientists have always believed that anxiety is directly related to poor health, including diabetes, no one has shown the biological pathways involved according to Murdock. He adds that there is evidence that inflammation increases as the level of stress increases.
The team suggests that, based on the findings of this study, it takes more than telling patients to use insulin on time or following a particular diet to help individuals deal with diabetes and anxiety.
Further, the researchers list other possible interventions such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and stimulants as well as taking anti-inflammatory medications.
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Murdock concludes by noting that helping an individual shift his or her attention away from stressful thoughts may affect physiological responses. As a rule of thumb, seek medical care if your condition doesn’t improve.