Men who have low resistance to stress at the age of 18 could have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in adulthood, according to a new study.
Researchers at Stanford University, United States and colleagues in Sweden aimed to assess if stress resilience earlier in life was related to the subsequent development of type 2 diabetes.
Stress in adulthood is associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but could be “mediated by behavioural and physiological factors,” according to the researchers.
A cohort of 1,534,425 military conscripts in Sweden was examined between 1969 and 1997. During this time, national service was compulsory in Swede, affecting 97-98 per cent of all 18-year-old males nationwide every year.
None of the conscripts had type 2 diabetes. Each one underwent standardised psychological assessment for stress resilience and was followed up for type 2 diabetes between 1987 and 2012. Diagnosis for type 2 diabetes was identified from outpatient and inpatient diagnoses. The maximum attained age was 62 years old.
34,008 men were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 39 million person-years of follow-up. After adjustments for BMI, family history of diabetes and socioeconomic factors; low stress resilience was associated with an increased risk of developing type 2.
The 20 per cent of men with the lowest stress resilience were 51 per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than the 20 per cent with the highest stress resilience.
The researchers suggested that unhealthy lifestyle behaviours and other physiological factors could affect how stress resilience influences the development of type 2, noting that people who are more stressed are more likely to smoke, get less physical activity and eat an unhealthy diet.
The authors concluded: “These findings suggest that psychosocial function and ability to cope with stress may play an important long-term role in aetiological pathways for type 2 diabetes. Additional studies will be needed to elucidate the specific underlying causal factors, which may help inform more effective preventive interventions across the lifespan.”
As the study only involved male army recruits, the researchers noted that they cannot be certain whether the findings directly apply to women.
The findings were published in the online journal Diabetologia.