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Insulin & Stress Hormones

author image Laura Wallace Henderson
Piper Li, a professional freelance writer, began writing in 1989. Her articles appear online at Biz Mojo, Walden University and various other websites. She is the co-editor for "Kansas Women: Focus on Health." With a bachelor's degree in journalism from Mesa State, Li enjoys writing about health, horticulture and business management.
Insulin & Stress Hormones
A woman is checking her insulin levels. Photo Credit: dolgachov/iStock/Getty Images

Stress is your body’s natural response to protect you against threats to your safety. Although danger from predators seldom exists today, humans still produce stress hormones in response to everyday situations. Continual stress can affect your insulin levels and may put your health at risk, especially if you have diabetes.

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Stress Response

Perceived threats, such as an encounter with an aggressive dog, can stimulate your hypothalamus gland to signal an alarm in your body. This alarm sends out hormonal and nerve signals that cause your adrenal gland to release a surge of hormones, known as stress hormones. Normal life situations, such as money problems, family issues and coworker conflict, can also create feelings of threat and stress, causing your body to respond in the same manner.

Stress Hormones

As your adrenal glands, the small glands above your kidneys, respond to the signal from your hypothalamus gland, they produce cortisol and adrenaline. The increase in adrenaline provides a boost of energy, speeds up your heart rate and increases your blood pressure. The main stress hormone, cortisol, serves to improve your brain’s ability to use glucose. Cortisol also minimizes nonessential functions that do not support the fight-or-flight response.

Glucose Levels

Cortisol is the stress hormone that affects the way your body processes insulin. This steroid hormone makes your muscle and fat cells resistant to insulin and increases the production of glucose. Your body depends on insulin to regulate glucose levels in your blood. Insulin works by processing glucose into energy in your cells. Diabetes is a condition that affects your ability to produce or process insulin. The increase in glucose due to stressful situations can alter the amount of insulin necessary to provide healthy blood-sugar levels, meaning individuals with diabetes may experience glucose spikes during periods of stress.

Health Considerations

Continual and long-term stress can cause an overexposure to stress hormones and may increase your risk of certain health conditions, such as depression, digestive problems, digestive disorders, heart disease and obesity. Individuals with diabetes may have difficulty monitoring blood sugar levels due to fluctuations or increases in glucose. Learn to manage the stress in your life by developing healthy friendships, practicing relaxation techniques and eating a nutritious diet. Seek professional counseling to help you overcome unmanageable stress in your life.

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