Can anxiety raise blood sugar in nondiabetics?
Anxiety is a distressing, unpleasant state of body and minds a person experiences, characterized by a dramatic emotional response to imminent threats, persistent fear, and worry.
But besides emotional and behavioral changes, anxiety causes quite a lot of physical symptoms such as raised heart rate, sweating, shaking, and increased breathing.
Recall the last time you were nervous or anxious about something, you might have experienced all these symptoms.
Although the signs of anxiety can differ and be specific to every person – headache, belly pain, chills, chest pain, confusion – are rare but also noteworthy.
How does anxiety affect blood sugar levels?
You might think that spikes in blood sugar levels are only problems for those with diabetes since they have problems with insulin secretion or use, although you might be surprised to find out that huge emotional stress that leads to anxiety can be the cause of blood sugar spike in the non-diabetic population.
The good news is, the spike is temporary most of the time, caused by the overproduction of stress hormones and not by any kind of chronic metabolic abnormality.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of studies researching this topic, although the mechanism behind heightened blood sugar levels in response to stress is well-understood.
What’s the reason for high blood pressure?
To put it into simple words, when experiencing stress our body goes into what’s called fight-or-flight mode, meaning it undergoes all the physiological changes that get the body ready for a “fight” against the threat or “flight” – escape from it – both processes undoubtedly require a lot of energy,
It’s a normal and necessary physiological response supposing you are in actual danger, but in the case of anxiety disorders, you might be performing on a stage, presenting a new project, or even going on a first date – any new emotional experience can be perceived as stress for our brain and body.
If you think about it, all the symptoms of anxiety make sense
Faster Heartbeat – more blood flow to muscles and brain
Increased breathing – more oxygen is needed by the body to fight or flight
Sweating – evaporation is needed to cool the body and prevent it from overheating during a stressful event.
Hyperglycemia – or high blood sugar – since more nutrients are required for muscles to run or fight. During stress you need to think fast; the brain only uses glucose as the source of energy, so the body gives sugar to it.
Where does sugar come from?
If I have not eaten anything sweet and my sugar metabolism is normal, how do I get high blood sugar levels during anxiety?
That’s a good question; to answer it we need to peek into the biochemistry and physiology of our body.
During stress, our body produces the so-called “stress hormones” in greater quantities, which are responsible for our “fight-or-flight” physical changes. Thus they act on heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, blood sugar levels, and so on.
The stress Hormones are called cortisol and adrenaline, both of which are released by the adrenal glands.
Cortisol – The plasma level of this hormone increases two- to fivefold during stress in humans, it has a huge role in glucose metabolism and insulin resistance. Too much cortisol reduces the synthesis of protein, breaks down proteins, and converts them into carbohydrates in the liver by the process of gluconeogenesis.
The net effect of cortisol is creating sugars from proteins. Noteworthy to mention, in the long-term, cortisol increases insulin resistance – the ability of cells to use glucose as a source of energy, leaving high sugar in the blood.
Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is the other stress hormone that also impacts blood sugar levels, specifically – it activates glycogenolysis – the breakdown of glycogen.
Glycogen is the main storage form of glucose in our body, liver and skeletal muscles.
As soon as adrenaline activates glycogenolysis, the stored glucose is released, raising blood sugar levels temporarily.
Besides that, by binding to alpha 2 receptors in the pancreas, adrenaline can decrease the secretion of insulin, further raising blood sugar levels.
As already mentioned, all of these effects are temporary, if anxiety lasts for several minutes or even hours, these physiological changes will have no long-term bad impact on our health.
Although in case of anxiety is chronic, these actions might have an impact on cardiovascular health.
For chronic anxiety, consultation with physicians is recommended.
Anxiety and Diabetes
Although there is not a direct association between anxiety and diabetes, there is some evidence of a link between stress and the risk of type 2 diabetes since high levels of stress hormones might damage insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, reducing the amount of insulin they make.