Let us consider a patient with type 1 diabetes.

I think it would be safe to say that diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Now let us suppose this patient comes under stress. As far as I know, cortisol is a stress hormone and is released when a human is under stress. Now cortisol, as far as I know, increases the amount of blood sugar and at the same time is an immunosuppressant.

I would like to know whether this stress-induced cortisol can suppress the immune system, which has gone haywire, and help against diabetes - thereby rendering a suitable amount of stress useful.


1 Answer 1


Short answer
Stress is not a good candidate to treat autoimmune disease like diabetes type I.

Stress indeed weakens the immune system, and diabetes type I is indeed caused by an auto-immune response against the insulin-producing beta cells in the islets of Langerhans. However, autoimmune diseases like diabetes type I need chronic treatment (i.e., insulin treatment and dietary changes).

Even if stress would help reduce diabetes type I (admittedly, theoretically it could), chronic stress would also reduce the immune response against viral and bacterial infections, it would reduce wound healing and perhaps even increase the risk of contracting cancer (Glaser & Kiecolt-Glaser (2005), as well as increase the risk of depression and cardiovascular disease (Cohen et al., 2007).

Hence, it is safe to say that deploying chronic stress as a treatment against auto-immune disease effectively means substituting one life-threatening condition with another.

- Cohen et al., JAMA (2007); 298(14): 1685-7
- Glaser & Kiecolt-Glaser, Nature Rev Immunol (2005); 5: 243-51

  • $\begingroup$ What about deliberately going through a little amount of stress everyday in a manner which is controlled enough to even reach up to the periphery of being chronic. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ It is an idea, but I doubt anyone has tested it. Which patient would prefer to be stressed as opposed to regular treatment with insulin? Would you? Further, how to stress someone daily for years in a controlled way? I doubt anyone has tested it for these reasons. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 21:20

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