Hidden culprit behind Type II diabetes

Government health experts wasted decades–and billions of dollars–trying to round up and “control” the “usual suspects” when it comes to cardiovascular disease (CVD). They pointed fingers at moderate excess body weight, salt, cholesterol, and saturated fats. And they still tell you to avoid foods like dairy, eggs and meats. But it turns out these factors have only marginal, if any, effects on CVD risk for most people. And actually, they’re all required in moderation for good health and nutrition.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, is never good. And it’s the real culprit behind high blood pressure and CVD.

Stress causes a cascade effects on your metabolism and physiology. It disrupts metabolism and homeostasis–or the body’s ability to self-heal and stay in balance. And this disruption can lead to CVD.

But I have long suspected that stress is the hidden cause lurking behind other common chronic diseases as well. Such as cancer and adult-onset diabetes. Turns out, my long-held suspicions were right on the mark. A new study shows stress plays a significant role in developing Type II diabetes.

For this study, researchers followed more than 5,000 men and women in Germany for more than 12 years. At the study’s outset, the participants were between the ages of 29 and 66. And none of them had Type II diabetes.

The researchers surveyed the participants about their perceived job stress. They also asked the participants if they had control over their work. In other words, did they have room to maneuver and make their own decisions in the workplace?

Then, the researchers divided the participants into three categories:

  • those with demanding jobs that allowed the person some control over their work
  • those with undemanding jobs
  • those with demanding jobs that did not allow the person any autonomy or control

Subjects who fell into the first two categories were put into a  “low stress” group. Subjects in the third category went into the “high stress” group.  That’s a perceptive approach to the problem of assessing stress.

Almost 300 cases of Type II diabetes developed during the 12-plus year study. The “high stress” group had a 45 percent greater chance of developing Type II diabetes than the “low stress” group.

Results were consistent even when the researchers controlled for age, sex, weight, family history of diabetes, physical inactivity, smoking, and low socio-economic status. In other words, even when the researchers eliminated these other strong “risk factors,” job stress still proved to be a strong risk factor.

At first, researchers attempted to link the findings back to the usual suspects. They considered that the psychological effects of stress would lead people to eat more unhealthy foods, or to smoke, drink, or have other “lifestyle” risk factors–but such was not the case. It was the effects of stress, pure and simple, on the body’s metabolism and physiology.

The researchers claim this is the first scientific study to focus on the link between physiological stress and Type II diabetes. But truthfully, we have known about the link between working and living environments and physiological stress for a long time.

In fact, in the 1970s I studied the effects of chronic stress on blood pressure in a highly stressed population in Southeast Asia. When I returned to the U.S. with my data, I was eventually directed to Professor Jim Henry. He ran the Human Centrifuge Lab, originally developed for the NASA Space Program, at the University of Southern California. Dr. Henry was designing experiments to measure the environmental circumstances that produced high measures of stress. Such stressful environments presented a high level of demand, and a low level of control and predictability.

Linking those factors to the modern work environment does not require a leap of imagination. But in prior studies linking workplace stress to adverse health outcomes, researchers usually tried to place the blame elsewhere.

In fact, a few studies published since 2010 did uncover a connection between workplace stress to Type II diabetes–initially in women. The researchers tried to lay the blame on unhealthy coping behaviors. For example, they tried to say unhealthy behaviors–such as drinking, overeating or smoking–caused the adverse physical outcomes.

But this argument completely ignores the very real mind-body connection.

You see, mental stress can and does cause physical symptoms. And stress doesn’t have to be linked to other “lifestyle” factors or “coping behaviors” in order to have an effect on health. The stress itself is causing the metabolic effect on diabetes. So in terms of workplace stress and chronic diseases–whether heart disease or diabetes–it’s a classic case of “meet the new boss; same as the old boss.”

Fortunately, you can learn to manage your workplace stress so that it doesn’t actually give you Type II diabetes. Many different mind-body techniques can help you deal with stress. From meditation to acupuncture to therapeutic massage.

But first, you should learn which personality type you have. This step will help you decide which technique will work best for you. For example, hypnosis or meditation works well for some personalities. But not for others.

Take this short online quiz to learn which personality type you have. Then, you can make a better-informed decision about which mind-body technique to use.

Also, if you feel stress starting to creep in during the work day, it helps to remove yourself from the situation. Go for a walk outside. Or try listening to some music while you work.

In addition, two books will help your quest to stay stress-free in the workplace, Your Emotional Type and New World Mindfulness.

Without a doubt, workplace stress is common. But, with a little practice, you can learn how to reduce your reaction to it.


  1. “Job Strain as a Risk Factor for the Onset of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Findings From the MONICA/KORA Augsburg Cohort Study,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 2014