Can diabetes cause mood swings?


Diabetes is a serious and even life threatening disease if not treated appropriately. It is a disease involving the pancreas which is responsible for regulating blood sugar in the body. The pancreas regulates blood sugar in the body by releasing two different hormones: insulin and glucagon. Insulin is released when the blood sugar is high (hyperglycemia) and glucagon is released when the blood sugar is low (hypoglycemia).

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot regulate insulin either due to the inability to make insulin because of an autoimmune destruction of the islet cells (Type 1 diabetes), or due to insulin resistance over time (Type 2 diabetes). Diabetes is a lifelong condition that requires very close monitoring of blood sugar levels and appropriate treatment with either insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents. Diet is also a key treatment element in diabetes.

When blood sugar is too low

There has been a hypothetical link between diabetes and temperament issues in young men. Mood changes in individuals are often affected by hormonal imbalances. In the case of diabetes, the hormonal imbalance has to do with insulin and blood sugar. Hypoglycemia often results in irritability and hostility — hence the term “hangry” — referring to an angry state of mind when a person is hungry. Because hunger is often triggered by low blood sugar, a hungry person will often become angry.

Although many people with diabetes do complain of rapid changes in mood and even depression, no evidence links diabetes and temperament changes in young men. Any link is most likely the result of rapidly changing blood sugar levels. Additionally, diabetes is costly and time consuming. Insulin shots, glucometers and test strips are expensive, and having to prick yourself or give yourself a shot multiple times a day can be extremely stressful and can lead to depression.

The decrease in blood sugar also causes a release of two other hormones — cortisol and epinephrine — which are both major players in the body’s stress response. Cortisol and epinephrine are both released from the adrenal glands when the body is physically stressed, such as in a low-glucose state or when the body is emotionally and mentally stressed. These hormones also can contribute to mood swings that are associated with the hypoglycemic state and are known to increase physiological stress.

When blood sugar is too high

On the other end of the spectrum, hyperglycemia can have effects on the brain, resulting in mood swings and irritability.

According to one published study: “During acute hyperglycemia, cognitive function was impaired and mood state deteriorated in a group of people with Type 2 diabetes. These findings are of practical importance because intermittent or chronic hyperglycemia is common in people with Type 2 diabetes and may interfere with many daily activities through adverse effects on cognitive function and mood.”

When blood sugar is just right

The best way to prevent mood swings, irritability and anger is to keep blood sugars in the normal range and to prevent rapid fluctuations in sugar. This can be done by monitoring blood sugar regularly, being compliant with the insulin regimen, and sticking to a strict diet and exercise schedule. Diabetes can be very well managed or it could cost someone his or her life; it really depends on how compliant the individual is with his or her lifestyle and treatment regimen.

A therapeutic boarding school for adolescent males from age 12 through 17, White River Academy recognizes that the mind and body both play a role in behavioral health,  so we take a holistic approach to treating substance abuse, numerous mental health conditions including mood disorders, and co-occurring conditions. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. 

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