Diabetes and mental health
Updated: Feb 4
Did you know that people with diabetes are more likely to feel symptoms of depression, anxiety, fatigue, and "brain fog"?
This is because diabetes affects the way your body produces neurotransmitters, the signaling molecules in your brain. Most people don't realize that neurotransmitters are an important component of your body's function outside of your brain as well. One of the most complex brain-body systems is what we call the gut-brain axis. This is a bidirectional link between your gut and your brain, meaning that your gut health directly impacts your mental health and your mental health directly impacts your gut health. (Anybody else making multiple trips to the bathroom before a stressful meeting or appointment??)
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder, which, as you can probably tell from the name, affects your metabolism. Insulin helps us break down glucose (sugar from food) and turn it into energy that our body and brain use to function. When you're not producing enough insulin naturally, the glucose in your food is not being turned into energy, which results in fatigue and brain fog and can also contribute to symptoms of depression (sleeping too much, low motivation, hopelessness). Much of the anxiety attributed to diabetes is due to the constant worrying about blood sugar levels, fear of hyperglycemia and it's health affects, and concern about blood sugar dropping too low and having dangerous bouts of hypoglycemia.
The health of your gut, which is impacted by how well your body is processing food, is obviously impacted by diabetes. Not only is your body not processing food well, but diabetes also causes a cascade of inflammation throughout your body and an inflamed gut is not a happy gut. Many of the neurotransmitters that help your brain function well, such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and norepinephrine, are produced in your gut. When your gut is inflamed, it's not producing enough of those feel-good, relaxation, and alertness-promoting neurotransmitters that our brain needs in order to feel it's best.
So what can you do about it?! The best thing to do is start getting a handle on your blood sugar levels and their fluctuation throughout the day. Some diabetics have easy to control blood sugar, and some have blood sugar levels that are all over the place. Do your best. Once you've established some predictability around your blood sugar levels, you can start implementing changes to your diet that help keep your blood sugar at a steady level over the course of the day. There will never be a perfect way to manage your diabetes, but if you're willing to put in some initial work to learn more about taking control of your body again, your gut will start to heal, and in turn, so will your brain.