Diabetes Forecast

Brain Plays a Role in Stress-Diabetes Connection

Photo Credit: Croisy/BigStock

What to Know

Chronic stress, which often accompanies diabetes, eventually can lead to heart disease. In fact, such stress may be as bad for your heart as smoking and high blood pressure. But why this is the case remains unclear. To better understand the link between stress and the heart, researchers zeroed in on the brain region that controls our response to stress.

The Study

The study participants included 293 adults whose average age was 55. Between 2005 and 2008, they underwent scans, which imaged brain and bone marrow activity as well as inflammation in their arteries. The researchers then tracked the participants’ heart health for three to seven years in order to determine if what they found in the scans could predict future heart trouble.

The Results

By the end of the study, 22 of the participants had had a heart attack, stroke, or other heart trouble. They all had one thing in common: Each person’s amygdala—the almond-shaped brain structure involved in stress, fear, and other emotions—was highly active. And the more active the amygdala, the greater the chances of a cardiovascular event. That risk may be explained by another discovery: The researchers also linked heightened amygdala activity to an uptick in the production of immune system cells within the participants’ bone marrow. That, in turn, is associated with inflammation of the arteries, a major risk factor in heart disease.


Reduce stress and you may significantly reduce your risk of a heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. Meditation may help, the study authors write, because it appears to reduce activity in the amygdala. Stress, the researchers conclude, should be considered a major risk factor for heart disease; physicians should evaluate their patients for stress and, if necessary, help them manage it. While this study helps explain the relationship between stress and heart disease, it does not prove that one causes the other. Also, larger studies need to be done to confirm the findings of this study.

Ahmed Tawakol, Amorina Ishai, Richard AP Takx, Amparo L Figueroa, Abdelrahman Ali, Yannick Kaiser, Quynh A Truong, Chloe JE Solomon, Claudia Calcagno, Venkatesh Mani, Cheuk Y Tang, Willem JM Mulder, James W Murrough, Udo Hoffmann, Matthias Nahrendorf, Lisa M Shin, Zahi A Fayad, Roger K Pitman. “Relation between resting amygdalar activity and cardiovascular events: a longitudinal and cohort study”. The Lancet, 2017 Feb; 389 (10071): 834–845

The information on this screen does not take the place of care from your doctor or other health care provider. If you have general questions about diabetes or diabetes-related research, e-mail askada@diabetes.org or call 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2382).



Take the Type 2
Diabetes Risk Test