A French study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology has found a correlation between women working in mentally tiring jobs and increased likelihood of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
Researchers tracked the health and lifestyles of 73,517 French women over a course of 22 years. Of all the participants, women who categorized their jobs as “very mentally tiring” were 21 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This amounts to approximately 4,187 participants who were not necessarily at risk of developing diabetes at the beginning of the study due to risk factors like obesity and family history.
About 75 percent of the women who participated in the study were teachers or worked within the education field.
Dr. Catherine Harnois, professor of sociology at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, suggests one theory for this phenomena is the lack of energy women in mentally tiring jobs may experience. “Women are more likely to experience sexual harassment and gender discrimination at work, and are more likely than men to be saddled with familial responsibilities [such as childcare or eldercare] when they get home,” she says. “All of these factors and more can take a toll on health… If you are more tired after work, you might be less likely to exercise, have healthy eating behaviors, and less likely to maintain a healthy social life, which can result in worse health outcomes.”
Another theory is that mentally tiring jobs can put a woman’s sympathetic nervous system into overdrive and activate her “fight or flight” mode. This can interfere with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which controls things like digestion, mood and emotions, sexuality, the immune system, and energy levels. When a person experiences too much stress, the body dumps cortisol into the bloodstream and makes the person resistant to insulin produced in the pancreas.
How mentally tiring jobs affect men
These numbers are specific to women, but men aren’t off scot-free. A 14-year study published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology Journal revealed that diabetic men who had previously suffered a stroke were 68 percent more likely to die over the course of the study if they worked in a high stress, demanding job.
Moving forward, the research team plans to study how mentally tiring jobs affect people who already have diabetes, taking into account factors like how they manage the disease, their overall quality of life, and their risk of diabetes-related complications.