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What are the Effects of Diabetes on Mood Disorders?

Diabetes and mood disorders are connected and affect each other. Read more to understand the effects of diabetes on mood disorders on HealthyPlace.

The effects of diabetes and mood disorders are stronger than many people realize. According to researchers, the connection between the illnesses is real and significant. Diabetes and mood disorders do have effects on each other.

Mood disorders, which include depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, are illnesses of the brain that impact people’s experience with the world around them and their own inner world. Mood disorders negatively affect people’s emotions, energy level, appetite, motivation, sense of self-worth, and more.

On the other hand, diabetes is an illness of metabolism involving the pancreas, the hormone insulin, and blood sugar. When you eat, your body digests carbohydrates into glucose, or sugar. Glucose enters the bloodstream where it travels throughout the body, entering cells to provide energy. To enter the cells, glucose needs insulin. In type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t make insulin; therefore, glucose can’t get into the cells. In type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t use its insulin efficiently or doesn’t make enough to work well. Both types of diabetes involve difficulties with blood sugar use and regulation.

Initially, it might seem that mood disorders and diabetes have absolutely nothing to do with each other, no common or obvious link to explain why people living with mood disorders experience effects of diabetes on their emotions and life in general. Read on and you’ll see there is a relationship between the two.

The Effects of Diabetes on Mood Disorders Occur at High Rates

The connection between diabetes and mood disorders becomes more obvious when you consider the statistics.

The link between the two conditions isn’t a coincidence. Researchers have found that mood disorders and diabetes occur together at an astonishing rate.

  • People with diabetes are at a much higher risk—50-100%, which is up to double—of developing depression than people without diabetes ("Diabetes and Depression: Two Difficult Conditions to Manage").
  • Among people with bipolar disorder, diabetes occurs three times more often than in the general population.
  • The prevalence of diabetes among people living with schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia (a psychotic disorder rather than a mood disorder) is 4.5 percent higher than among people without these illnesses.
  • Especially in schizoaffective disorder, the problems in glucose metabolism is more severe than in the general population.

The numbers establish that these illnesses can and do occur together, and when they do, it’s not a coincidence. While it’s not yet clear if diabetes can cause mood disorders, that there is a connection is quite clear. Understanding this connection can help you treat both conditions.  

Weight Gain: An Effect of Diabetes and Mood Disorders

Being overweight can lead to type 2 diabetes. Also, according to several studies, there is a link between mood disorders and overweight and obesity. Between 54- and 68 percent of people with bipolar disorder are overweight or obese. This extra weight puts them at an increased risk for developing diabetes, because the extra body fat gets in the way of insulin’s ability to carry glucose into cells. The pancreas will increase insulin production to compensate, but over time this damages the pancreas and reduces insulin production.

Mood disorder medications are often the culprit of the weight gain that affects diabetes. Many common bipolar medications cause weight gain, among them:

  • Lithium
  • Antiepileptics
  • Antipsychotics
  • Mood-stabilizers

These medications that treat mood disorders can cause weight gain significant enough to lead to the development of diabetes.

An Effect of Diabetes on Mood Disorders: Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar and is a common occurrence in diabetes. When blood sugar isn’t controlled well, either because of poor diet and lack of exercise or difficulty injecting or otherwise taking the correct amount of medication like insulin, it can spike dangerously high or low.  

Hypoglycemia causes symptoms that include, among others, mood swings, irritability, weakness and/or fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. These indications of low blood sugar also fit mood disorders. If you have both diabetes and a mood disorder, hypoglycemia could worsen your mood symptoms.

Treating Diabetes and Mood Disorders to Reduce their Effects

For the best outcome, it’s important to treat and manage both blood sugar and mood disorders. It’s convenient that both conditions respond favorably to the same things:

  • Following your doctor’s medication instructions
  • Eating nutritiously
  • Exercising
  • Sleeping 7-8 hours each night
  • Engaging in activities to relax and reduce stress
  • Building a support network

As an extension of the effects of diabetes on mood disorders, here is some food for thought. According to Dr. Leslie Korn, acclaimed mental health professional, researcher, and author, new evidence points to the possibility that symptoms of bipolar disorder could be due to diet and blood sugar problems rather than mental illness. As she puts it, “Stabilize blood sugar and stabilize mood” (2016). While it’s too early to embrace this as fact, the notion that blood sugar dysregulation could be the culprit behind the illness we now call bipolar disorder is a promising effect of diabetes on mood disorders.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, January 8). What are the Effects of Diabetes on Mood Disorders?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/diabetes/mental-health/what-are-the-effects-of-diabetes-on-mood-disorders

Last Updated: May 10, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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