When the body is under stress, the adrenal glands trigger the release of glucose stored in various organs, which often leads to elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream.
For people with diabetes, this can be particularly problematic as they find it harder than non-diabetics to regain normal blood glucose levels after a bout of stress.
The common misconception with stress is that it is an emotional problem, often disguised as anxiety, worry, or depression.
However, the reality is that stress can also be physical, nutritional, and chemical.
For example, stress can be experienced as physical pain or illness, and can also be triggered by situations such as an accident, the death of a friend or relative or confrontations with other people.
Essentially, stress can be considered as anything that tends to change the control that you have over our body and our emotions
The Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands, which site atop the kidneys, are mainly responsible for releasing hormones in response to stress. The hypothalamus area of the brain sends a chemical signal to the adrenal glands, which become enlarged and produce two hormones – epinephrine (also called adrenaline) and norepinephrine.
These hormones are released into the blood to help prepare the body for the so-called ‘fight-or-flight response’.
They speed up the heart and widen airways and blood vessels, causing a rise in blood pressure and muscle tension.
While the main role of norepinephrine is to prevent blood pressure from falling, epinephrine is an important blood sugar regulating substance.
It is responsible for converting glycogen (the glucose stored in muscle cells and liver) into glucose when blood sugar levels drop, thus ensuring normal levels of blood glucose are maintained.
Raising blood sugar is important in stressful situations, as the body is told to get its fuel (glucose) levels up in preparation for a lot of physical and mental activity.
The release of epinephrine helps achieve this and, combined with the increase in blood pressure, ensures the supply of oxygen and glucose to all parts of the body.
Effect of long stress on blood glucose levels
It is important to be aware that repeated episodes of stress can cause serious changes in blood sugar levels, making it harder for diabetics to manage their condition and increasing the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Constant stress will also cause adrenal fatigue leading to adrenal failure, which is why it is vital to remove stress from your life, especially if you have diabetes.