Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease that can take a major toll on your body over time. It can damage your eyesight, kidneys, nerves, and leave you at risk for infections if you have a wound. And now, new research suggests that diabetes may affect the state of your mental health, particularly if you have an early onset of the condition—not to mention a far higher incidence of some of the damaging downstream conditions listed above.
The study, which was conducted at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, found that developing type 2 diabetes before the age of 40 may be associated with an increased risk of hospitalization for both physical and mental illness later in life. These results are based on an investigation that included more than 400,000 men and women with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Of these subjects, close to 21,000 had developed diabetes before they were 40; slightly more than 200,000 developed the disease between the ages of 40 and 59; and just under 200,000 developed it when they were 60 or older.
After analyzing the medical records of all the participants, the researchers discovered that those who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes before they reached their 40th birthday spent an average of close to 100 days in the hospital for any reason by the time they turned 75. In cases where modifiable risk factors—such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol—were well managed, the figure dropped to approximately 65 days hospitalized.
Nearly two-thirds of the hospital admissions were due to physical health problems. The volunteers who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes before 40 had almost seven times higher rates of kidney disease than their peers who did not have diabetes. Being hospitalized for cardiovascular disease or because of a stroke was twice as likely in those with earlier onset diabetes, and hospitalization due to infection was close to twice as prevalent.
What’s more, and this was the key finding in the study, roughly 37 percent of the days spent in the hospital for those who developed diabetes before 40 stemmed from a mental health problem. The most common issues leading to the hospitalization were mood disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, and self-injury, as well as psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and delusional disorder.
It probably isn’t surprising that individuals who develop type 2 diabetes at a young age would land in the hospital for physical health problems more often, but having more mental health disorders requiring hospitalization was less expected. Yet perhaps it makes sense. After all, this is not the first time this condition has been linked to mental health problems. A 2018 study at the Ministry of Health in Madrid, Spain showed a considerable prevalence of depression in people with diabetes.
In addition, it is stressful not only to receive the diagnosis of a serious, chronic condition, but diabetes is one that requires never-ending active involvement through careful monitoring of the foods consumed and blood sugar testing. That means stress levels might remain elevated, which can take a toll psychologically over time. And there are certain common denominators linked to both diabetes and mental health problems, including a sedentary lifestyle and obesity.
This research serves as a good reminder that just because diabetes is common doesn’t mean it is not very dangerous to our health in a variety of ways. It is essential to be aware of the risk factors for diabetes, many of which are in our control. Lose any excess weight you’re carrying; stick to a nutritious, low-calorie diet; and exercise every day to lower your risk of developing diabetes. And if you already have a diabetes diagnosis, don’t give up hope. By modifying your behavior and including a formula to help improve your body’s ability to metabolize sugar, you can lessen your dependence on insulin and reduce your chances of developing complications over time.