Considering Depression & Diabetes

Depression and Diabetes: Too Much in Common

June 6, 2016

Dr. Emilie C. Wilson

Some healers, myself included, like to look for metaphors in medicine.  A common metaphor used to understand diabetes is that the “diabetic patient lacks sweetness in her/his life”.  While this is by no means meant to represent any individual patient’s experience with diabetes, some people do find an element of truth to this statement.

And when you consider that depression often coexists with diabetes, this statement gets even closer to home.

The medical community recognizes the relationship between elevated blood sugar levels and conditions such as heart and kidney disease; we now also recognize that elevated blood sugar and depression are also closely linked.  Depressed patients are less likely to engage in effective self-care practices such as exercise and cooking nutritious meals from whole foods (foods that have one ingredient on their list/foods that come directly from planet earth: think fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, fish, meat), which only exacerbates their increasing blood sugar levels.

Our bodies do not like our blood sugar levels to be too high (or too low, for that matter).  As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas pumps out more insulin to siphon the sugar out of our bloodstream and into the cells of our bodies for use as energy, or to be stored for later as triglycerides, or fat-storage molecules.  The problem is that if we constantly have high levels of insulin in our bloodstream, the cells in our body become “resistant” to insulin.  Think of insulin as a stereo, playing a message to the cells that glucose is outside, can they please open their doors and let in glucose in?  The cells get that message and open up their doors.  If, however, there is lots of glucose and therefore lots of insulin, the message played by insulin gets louder and louder.  In an effort to “plug their ears” from insulin’s now-very loud message, the cells open fewer doors, so less glucose can get into the cells, and more insulin must then be produced.  This is a state of insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes, and occurs in the early stages of type II diabetes.

Among several other effects, insulin resistance and blood sugar dysregulation have marked disruptive effects on sleep, and can contribute to the development of sleep apnea.  Sleep is one of the most fundamental activities required for optimum mental health, so sleep disturbance feeds the negative spiral into worsening health for patients suffering from depression and diabetes.

By addressing lifestyle factors including diet (primarily, removing refined carbohydrates from the diet and adding in protective antioxidants and polyphenols from fruits and vegetables, as well as appropriate amounts of protein), exercise levels (implementing realistic movement goals appropriate for each patient), and sleep (making sure you’re getting restful, rejuvenating sleep), we at the Mind-Body Center aim to help you feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically.  We’ve also noticed that weight loss, an alert mind, regular and sustainable energy levels, and clear skin happen to be pleasant side effects!