How does stress affect my glucose levels?

Athletes, entrepreneurs, and the world’s most ambitious usually chalk high stress up as part of the job and are usually moderately aware of the “silent killer.” Chronic stress...

July 17 2020
Author
The Levels Team
Reviewed By
Casey Means, MD

Article Overview

  • Several studies have linked a significant correlation between perceived work-related stress and increased levels of circulating glucose.
  • Stress can push us to overeat, which raises our glucose levels, which leads to us to suffer from notable fatigue and low energy levels.
  • Insulin resistance in the brain can lead to impairment of the negative feedback on the stress hormone pathways of the brain, which can lead to an abnormal stress response in the brain.

Athletes, entrepreneurs, and the world’s most ambitious usually chalk high stress up as part of the job and are usually moderately aware of the “silent killer.” Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our mental and physical well-being, but what if we could mitigate some of its effects?

Better yet, what if we could make a positive impact on our stress levels by making minor adjustments to our diet? By taking control of our metabolic health, we can help prepare our bodies to handle our toughest challenges. 

But first, let’s cut through the abstract– the following article will explore how stress impacts your glucose levels. 

Stress and Glucose Levels

What came first, the chicken or the egg? We’re not really sure, but we know both exist today. 

Similarly, many people find themselves experiencing both high levels of stress and lower metabolic function.

In short, stress will indirectly cause our glucose levels to rise. Several studies have linked a significant correlation between perceived work-related stress and increased levels of circulating glucose. Chronically high blood glucose levels can cause our body to become resistant to insulin, the hormone that helps our cells use glucose. Insulin is also known to elevate cortisol and epinephrine, hormones associated with the stress response. 

In turn, elevated stress can raise glucose levels, putting many in an unpleasant vicious cycle. The stress can push us to overeat, which raises our glucose levels, which leads to us to suffer from notable fatigue and low energy levels. Our response to excessive feelings of fatigue often is– you guessed it, becoming more stressed. 

So, this vicious cycle leaves us with raised cortisol and glucose levels, and at a lack of focus due to decreased metabolic function. Stress can also impact other metabolic regulating processes such as sleep, further compounding the negative effects we’re experiencing.

Insulin resistance in the brain can lead to impairment of the negative feedback on the stress hormone pathways of the brain. Research suggests that this insulin resistance can lead to an abnormal stress response in the brain, contributing to more stress, as well as depression. 

Chronic stress can also impact our body’s ability to utilize its available glucose. In mice, acute psychological stress (getting repeatedly shocked on the foot and then needing to escape a cage) leads to substantially reduced clearance of glucose after a glucose load and acute insulin resistance. 

In a theoretical extrapolation to humans, minor psychological stresses can accumulate and make us more susceptible to insulin resistance, reducing our body’s ability to turn food into energy. 

Turning The Tide on Stress

The human body is a very dynamic and often forgiving organism. Stress management techniques can be very effective at reducing your glucose levels. 

For example, one study of insulin-resistant (type 2 diabetic) patients showed that those individuals that engaged in a program of daily 20-minute diaphragmatic breathing exercises showed a reduction in fasting blood glucose and post-meal glucose levels at the ninth week of the study. 

In another study in individuals with heart disease, six months of twice-weekly meditation showed a significant decrease in fasting blood sugar, post-meal blood sugar, and hemoglobin a1c. 

We can also tweak our eating habits to better optimize our metabolic health. Our dietary choices can significantly affect our glucose levels and risk of developing insulin resistance. 

Fortunately, modern technology can help us take a “look under the hood” and see exactly how certain foods or events impact our individual glucose levels using objective data. Levels helps users discern a relationship between these stress levels and glucose levels and take action to make positive life changes.

Final Thoughts 

People who work in demanding environments are no strangers to stress. 

Whether our stressors are blatant (i.e., MMA fighting) or perceived (i.e., seeing a passive-aggressive email from your boss), they are likely going to negatively impact your glucose. 

If we want optimal metabolic fitness, we need to take full responsibility for managing the stress in our lives. 

Self-care in the form of meditation practices, deep breathing, and many others can go a long way, and coupled with healthy tweaks to your diet based on objective data, you can take control over your metabolic health away from stress.