Controlling blood glucose levels is one of the main goals of diabetes and prediabetes management, and now new research presented at ENDO 2015, the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, suggests that an approach known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) may lower fasting blood sugar levels and improve quality of life in overweight and obese women. An estimated 29 million people have diabetes and 86 million people have prediabetes in the United States.
MBSR is a nonreligious mindfulness meditation program developed and popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. The practice involves using methods such as breathing exercises to develop nonjudgmental awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations from moment to moment.
Stress appears to play a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease in women who are overweight and obese. To evaluate the effectiveness of MBSR at reducing stress in this population, the researchers randomly assigned 86 overweight and obese women to either eight weeks of MBSR training or, for those in the control group, health education training. All participants received fasting blood tests and completed questionnaires at the beginning of the study and again at eight and 16 weeks.
The researchers found that sleep, depression, anxiety, and overall psychological distress improved in both groups. However, those in the MBSR group experienced significant increases in mindfulness and significant decreases in stress compared to those in the health education group. Those given mindfulness-based training also exhibited significant drops in fasting blood sugar and significant increases in quality of life compared to those in the control group.
“In overweight and obese women, stress may contribute to increased diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” notes Nazia Raja-Khan, MD. “MBSR significantly reduces fasting glucose and improves quality of life without changing body weight or insulin resistance. Increased mindfulness and reduced stress may lead to physiological changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and/or sympathetic nervous system that result in lower glucose levels.”
The research supports the use of mindfulness-based strategies along with conventional therapies in preventing and treating diabetes and obesity, Raja-Khan adds.
For more information, see the press release from the Endocrine Society, “Stress Reduction May Reduce Fasting Glucose in Overweight and Obese Women,” or see the study’s abstract on the ENDO 2015 website. And for more on mindfulness-based approaches to reducing stress, see the articles “Taking a Zen Approach to Diabetes” and “Meditation and the Art of Diabetes Management.”