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Mentally tiring work linked to type 2 diabetes in women: Study

iStock/katleho SeisaDR. LINDA DROZDOWICZ

(NEW YORK) -- “This job is killing me!”

We’ve all said this at least once of frustration, but a new study out of France published in the European Journal of Endocrinology suggests that mentally tiring work may be making people — specifically women — sick. The study was extensive, following more than 75,000 women for 22 years.

Researchers found that women who rated their work as “very mentally tiring” were 21 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes over the study period compared to those who rated their work as “little or not mentally tiring.”

This effect was specifically in women who were not overweight to begin with.

Now, this was a correlational study, meaning it doesn’t prove that stressful jobs caused type 2 diabetes but there appears to be some link. The study raises some important questions about women and the stressors in their workplace.

ABC News spoke to Dr. Catherine Harnois, professor of sociology at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Harnois highlighted some workplace issues that are specific to women, which can intensify their levels of mental strain at work.

“In addition to working in jobs that have low autonomy and may have lower status, prestige or earnings, women are more likely to experience sexual harassment and gender discrimination at work, and are more likely than men to be saddled with familial responsibilities [such as childcare and eldercare] when they get home," she said. "All of these factors and more can take a toll on health.”

Regarding the potential links of mentally tiring work to physical health and diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, she hypothesized that "if you are more tired after work, you might be less likely to exercise, have healthy eating behaviors, and less likely to maintain a healthy social life, which can result in worse health outcomes.”

But another theory is that the work-related stress might put women’s sympathetic nervous systems — responsible for the “fight or flight” response — into overdrive, and also mess with a critical body circuit called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

When these systems get out of whack, our bodies can be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes by dumping too much cortisol into the body and making us resistant to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar.

Whatever the causes of the trend in this study, women should do what they can to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including eating well, getting adequate sleep and exercising regularly. For more information on preventing type 2 diabetes, you can check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Diabetes Prevention Program.

Linda Drozdowicz, M.D., is a fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Yale University and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.


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