The incredible healing power of mindfulness cannot be overstated. This technique, which awareness of one’s present thoughts and feelings, has been linked to a wealth of health benefits — with recent reports linking it to reduced anxiety and symptoms of depression, improved heart health, and stress relief. Now, new research is suggesting that having a sense of mastery over your own thoughts and feelings could protect against diabetes.
The study, published in the American Journal of Health Behavior, measured health indicators, including mindfulness and blood glucose, of 399 volunteers using glucose tests and the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), a questionnaire used to assess dispositional mindfulness on a one to seven scale. They wanted to find out if people practicing higher degrees of mindfulness are better able to motivate themselves to exercise, resist cravings for high-fat and sugary foods, and to stick with diet regimens recommended by their doctors.
Researchers found that participants who were the most mindful, with MAAS scores of six or seven, were 35 percent more likely to have healthy glucose levels under 100 milligrams per deciliter than people with MAAS scores lower than four. With this new information at hand, researchers sought to identify factors that might explain the connection between mindfulness and glucose levels. Their analysis showed that obesity risk — mindful people are less likely to be obese — and sense of control both contribute to the link.
Obesity made about a 3-percentage point difference of the total 35-percent point risk difference. Sense of control accounted for another 8 percentage points of the effect. "This study demonstrated a significant association of dispositional mindfulness with glucose regulation, and provided novel evidence that obesity and sense of control may serve as potential mediators of this association," study authors wrote.
The study also found that participants with high levels of mindfulness were about 20 percent less likely to have type 2 diabetes.
The findings don’t depict a causal relationship between mindfulness and glucose levels, but the information is useful as researchers are studying whether interventions that increase mindfulness can improve cardiovascular health.
"There's been almost no epidemiological observational study investigations on the relationship of mindfulness with diabetes or any cardiovascular risk factor," Eric Loucks, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health, said in a statement . "This is one of the first. We're getting a signal. I'd love to see it replicated in larger sample sizes and prospective studies as well."
Researchers say more studies are needed to establish causality and to evaluate potential implications for mindfulness-based interventions to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.
Source: Loucks E, Gilman S, Britton W, Gutman R, Eaton C, Buka S. Associations of Mindfulness with Glucose Regulation and Diabetes. American Journal of Health Behavior. 2016.