Life stresses precursor to diabetes, premature ageing: expert

woman with diabetes injects insulin into abdomen

Life stresses have the potential to manifest into non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, stroke, asthma, heart disease, depression and osteoporosis, says a behavioural epidemiology expert.

Timothy Olds, Professor of Behavioural Epidemiology at the University of South Australia, is about to speak about Stress, lifestyle and diabetes: using the allostatic load model to translate research into practice at the upcoming ADS/ADEA Annual Scientific Meeting.

He says frequent activation of the human stress response can damage the body in the long run.

Prof Olds says the allostatic model is a simple way for understanding the origins, nature and possible treatments of diabetes, among other non-communicable diseases.

“We are all, to different extents, subject to life stresse,” he says, “whether that’s relationship or money worries, through to exposure to viruses and injuries.

“These stresses lead to a state of inflammation, the body’s natural response to stress, resulting in increased blood pressure, blood sugar, blood fats and stress hormones released into the bloodstream to provide emergency fuel.

“Inflammation is good in the short term; it’s the fight or flight response that helps us deal with immediate challenges, but when we are subject to repeated stress we get chronic low-grade inflammation, such as chronic high blood pressure, high blood sugars (which leads to insulin resistance) and the shortening of telomeres.”

Telomeres are the marker for biological ageing—the shorter they are, the ‘older’ we are.

“All-in-all, these are changes which are frankly bad for us,” Prof Olds says.

“Eventually, all of this manifests permanently as high blood fats, blood pressure, insulin resistance and airway inflammation—this is the allostatic load. In laymen’s terms, it’s the ‘wear and tear on the body’ that grows over time when an individual is repeatedly exposed to stresses.

“Sustained for long enough, a high allostatic load will translate into overt diseases such as diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, asthma and perhaps even osteoporosis and dental problems,” says Prof Olds.

During Professor Old’s plenary, he will highlight prevention methods that are likely to be more effective than treating the symptoms and the disease, as well as discuss how the allostatic load model is helping the health industry explain a wide range of apparently disparate observations, such as the clustering of non-communicable diseases.

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