When Mental Health Affects Physical Health

PTSD may lead to increased type 2 diabetes risk in women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Women who survive traumatic events may have to fight yet another enemy: an increased risk of diabetes. A healthy diet and overall lifestyle may lower that risk.

A new study found that women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who didn't have the disorder.

Understanding the risk factors that make PTSD patients more prone to physical illness may help doctors prevent and treat chronic diseases like diabetes in these patients.

"An article published last year in JAMA Psychiatry indicated that PTSD is associated with increased levels of inflammation," said Dr. Barry Sears, an expert in anti-inflammatory nutrition, in an interview with dailyRx News. "This would explain the linkage between type 2 diabetes and PTSD."

Dr. Sears, creator of the Zone Diet, said a healthy diet could treat PTSD patients and prevent them from developing diabetes.

Study author Andrea L. Roberts, PhD, of the Harvard School of Public Health, said doctors should be aware of the increased risk of diabetes in PTSD patients.

"As fewer than half of Americans with PTSD receive treatment, our study adds urgency to the effort to improve access to mental health care to address factors that contribute to diabetes and other chronic diseases," Dr. Roberts said in a press release.

Dr. Roberts and colleagues looked at links between PTSD symptoms and type 2 diabetes incidence over a 22-year period. They analyzed survey data collected from 49,739 nurses between 1989 and 2011.

The women were assessed for PTSD, a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. PTSD patients develop symptoms like severe anxiety, flashbacks and nightmares, which can last for years and affect quality of life. One in nine women — the equivalent of 11 million women in the US — is affected by PTSD in her lifetime, according to a study published in Psychiatric Times.

Women with the highest number of PTSD symptoms were almost twice as likely as women without the disorder to develop type 2 diabetes, Dr. Roberts and team found.

These researchers found that antidepressant use and a higher body mass index (BMI) accounted for nearly half of the increased risk of diabetes for PTSD patients. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.

"Comprehensive PTSD treatment should be expanded to address the health behaviors that contribute to obesity and chronic disease in PTSD-affected populations," Dr. Roberts and team wrote.

This study was published online Jan. 7 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Mental Health and the US Department of Defense funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 6, 2015
Last Updated:
January 11, 2015