The result of genetic inheritance, lack of physical activity , poor nutrition and family history of the same have all been regarded as risk factors for T2DM . However, researchers are of the opinion that the environment seems to play a bigger role than the genetic connection.
“There’s substantial evidence to demonstrate the environment we live in has direct impacts on our health,” says exercise physiologist Rebecca Hasson, PhD, director of the Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan.
Stress is not only created due to work related problems or personal relationships. There are other stress creating factors such as poverty, discrimination and unfavourable surroundings which can also be a cause for T2DM.
In times of stress, a hormone called ‘cortisol’ is released as part of the ‘fight or flight ‘ response.It increases the blood glucose in the body, influences cells to oppose insulin’s signals to absorb and store blood glucose so that it is available for muscle activity, and increases the craving for high calorie foods.
“Cortisol is a biomarker of stress,” Hasson says. “If you don’t, or can’t run away—you’re late for school, you can’t pay your bills you’re always in this high-alert situation, whether or not you’re conscious of it.”
When cortisol levels are consistently high but there’s no physical activity to alleviate the effects of chronic stress, the consequences may contribute to Type 2 Diabetes.The higher the level of cortisol,the higher is the insulin resistance.The insulin-producing beta -cells wear out because of the insulin resistance , causing Type 2 diabetes.
So, stress makes people ill. Groups that are more susceptible to poverty, discrimination, or unhygienic surroundings are more likely to be exposed to cortisol and its bad effects.
“Overall, ethnic minorities have much higher cortisol levels and exposure than whites,” Hasson says.
Hasson is working with 150 obese children between ages 14 and 18 to measure the links between stress, race, and type 2 diabetes risk directly.
The teenage years, Hasson says, are a “perfect biological and social storm” where school, family, and neighborhood stresses pile on to already raging hormones.
“If there are ethnic differences in the stress pathways, that could help guide our intervention,” Hasson says. “We’d have to start asking ourselves how we can reduce stress in their lives.”