Health Tips: Job Stress Could Lead to Diabetes

Health Tips: Job Stress Could Lead to Diabetes

It’s no secret that with policing often comes an unhealthy level of stress, and that stress can manifest itself in a multitude of physical conditions.

Stress, when combined with a lack of exercise (read, endless hours in a patrol car) and a regular diet of fried and high-carb foods (Big Mac’s and fries are not your friends), creates the perfect storm for type 2 diabetes.

If your family history doesn’t include type 2 diabetes, it may not even be something you’ve considered. In many cases, its symptoms go unnoticed. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 84 million American adults – which translates to 1 in 3 – are prediabetic.

“Of those with prediabetes, 90 percent don’t know they have it,” the CDC website states. “Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.”

Prediabetes is a condition that occurs when cells stop responding normally to insulin. The pancreas creates insulin and allows blood sugar into your cells for use as energy, according to the CDC. The prediabetic pancreas creates extra insulin to encourage cells to respond. But it eventually can’t keep up, causing blood sugar to rise. Without intervention, prediabetes will advance into a diabetic condition.

Stress and Diabetes

Most peace officers are familiar with the physiological response they experience when stress levels rise. Whether it’s chasing a bad guy, responding to a heated domestic-violence call, performing a death notification or rescuing drivers from the mangled wreckage of a collision, the human body prepares itself to take action.

You might have heard this called the fight-or-flight response.

“In the fight-or-flight response, levels of many hormones shoot up,” an American Diabetes Association article about stress states. “Their net effect is to make a lot of stored energy – glucose and fat – available to cells. These cells are then primed to help the body get away from danger.

“In people who have diabetes, the fight-or-flight response does not work well,” the ADA article continued. “Insulin is not always able to let the extra energy into the cells, so glucose piles up in the blood.”

Obviously the stress of policing isn’t always physical. Mental stress of the job affects the body the same way, the ADA noted. Long-term stress can be lead to a serious condition.

“With mental stress, the body pumps out hormones to no avail,” the ADA article states. “Neither fighting nor fleeing is any help when the ‘enemy’ is your own mind.”

Not a Death Sentence

While it may sound like diabetes is an inevitable condition for those in the policing field, awareness and action can make all the difference in your long-term health. Unlike many medical concerns, discovering you are prediabetic is not something you have to simply accept. If you begin making changes immediately, you may be able to reverse the condition.

Together with the National Institutes of Health, the CDC conducted a research study of more than 3,000 prediabetic patients to determine how making certain changes affected their condition. Participants were assigned to three separate study groups:

  • Those who made a lifestyle change focused on losing weight and being more active, and did not take any medication,
  • Those who were given metformin, a medication used to treat diabetes, and
  • A placebo group who neither made changes nor took medication.

At the end of the three-year study, the results showed that those who made lifestyle changes cut their risk for type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. Those older than 60 reduced their risk by 71 percent. Patients who only took medication for their condition reduced their risk by 31 percent. Participants who did nothing saw no change in their condition.

As a result, the CDC established the National Diabetes Prevention Program, which helps individuals learn to make lifestyle changes and improve their prediabetes risk levels. This program is offered both online as well as in more than 70 locations in Kentucky.

While exercise and a healthy diet alone could make a significant impact for prediabetics, getting control of your stress also is imperative. In law enforcement, preventing or eliminating stress in your daily life isn’t necessarily a viable option. However, you can take strides toward changing how you handle stress as it comes.

Breathing exercises, progressive relaxation therapy and replacing bad thoughts with good ones all are recommended by the ADA.

“Some sources of stress are never going to go away, no matter what you do,” the article states. “Whatever method you choose to relax, practice it. Just as it takes weeks or months of practice to learn a new sport, it takes practice to learn relaxation.”  

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