Cortisol dysregulation: the bidirectional link between stress, depression, and type 2 diabetes mellitus

Research paper by Joshua J. Joseph, Sherita H. Golden

Indexed on: 18 Oct '16Published on: 17 Oct '16Published in: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences


Controversy exists over the role of stress and depression in the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Depression has been shown to increase the risk for progressive insulin resistance and incident type 2 diabetes mellitus in multiple studies, whereas the association of stress with diabetes is less clear, owing to differences in study designs and in forms and ascertainment of stress. The biological systems involved in adaptation that mediate the link between stress and physiological functions include the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and the autonomic nervous and immune systems. The HPA axis is a tightly regulated system that represents one of the body's mechanisms for responding to acute and chronic stress. Depression is associated with cross-sectional and longitudinal alterations in the diurnal cortisol curve, including a blunted cortisol awakening response and flattening of the diurnal cortisol curve. Flattening of the diurnal cortisol curve is also associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus. In this article, we review and summarize the evidence supporting HPA axis dysregulation as an important biological link between stress, depression, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.