Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, according to WebMD. Furthermore, it is estimated that 75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related complaints. Stress plays a role in everything from headaches, high blood pressure, and skin conditions, to asthma, depression, and diabetes. The cost of stress to society exceeds $300 billion annually.
Stress causes dangerous physiological effects
It’s no secret that stress kills. Mental duress triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which has wide-ranging effects on the body. Dartmouth researchers found that cortisol encourages higher blood sugar levels by stimulating gluconeogenesis (the pathway that synthesizes glucose from oxaloacetate), which stimulates glycogen synthesis in the liver, prevents cells from losing sodium, and accelerates the rate of potassium excretion.
Cortisol weakens the immune system by blocking t-cell proliferation, inhibiting histamine secretion, and stifling inflammation. The hormone also overwhelms the hippocampus, causing atrophy and memory loss.
Short periods of stress lead to “prolonged healing times, reduction in ability to cope with vaccinations, and heightened vulnerability to viral infection,” the researchers report. Yet, the long-term exposure to constantly elevated cortisol can be much more dangerous. “Impaired cognition, decreased thyroid function, and accumulations of abdominal fat,” were some of the side effects noted by researchers.
Study shows stress as one of the unsung causes of type 2 diabetes
Stress has a significant impact on the development of type 2 diabetes, according to a newly-released study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. Dr. Sharon Toker from Tel Aviv University found that male and female workers who reported a high level of social support at work had a 22 percent lesser risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Those who described themselves as “overworked” or “underworked” had an 18 percent more likely chance of becoming diabetic over a 3.5-year period.
Social support protects workers, while workload endangers them
The study was controlled for type 2 diabetes risk factors like age, family history, BMI, and activity level. At the outset, all 5,843 patients were healthy and free from diabetes. Over a period of 41 months, 182 participants developed diabetes. The researchers analyzed measures of social support, perceived control over work pace, work objectives, and perceived workload for clues about contributing causes of diabetes. Social support emerged as a strong protective factor against the disease. Workload was strongly correlated with disease development as well.
Employers need to take a proactive role in decreasing type 2 diabetes risk factors
Dr. Toker says she was particularly concerned about the rising rate of diabetes in the middle-aged cohort whose mean age was 48. “It’s costly to both employees and employers, resulting in absenteeism and triggering expensive medical insurance,” she said.
In her view, the study highlights the negative impact of our changing work environment that places greater burdens on the average employee. Simply reducing the workload may not benefit every employee, however. Individuals need to feel “challenged and satisfied in their jobs,” she notes. The take-away is for employers to take added measures to ensure that there is improved communication, social support for workers, and praise issued for a job well done.
- Science Daily, Positive Social Support at Work Shown to Reduce Risk of Diabetes, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130509123641.htm
- Web MD, Health Effects of Stress on Your Body, http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/effects-of-stress-on-your-body
- Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, The Physiology of Stress, http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2010/the-physiology-of-stress-cortisol-and-the-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis#.UZN-ZaJay8A