Can 'mindfulness' help people manage their diabetes?

May 20, 2016 by Euan Wemyss, University of Aberdeen
Can 'mindfulness' help people manage their diabetes?

A study to explore whether a technique similar to meditation can be used to help adults struggling to manage their Type 1 diabetes improve their diabetes control and their emotional wellbeing is under way at the University of Aberdeen.

In partnership with researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Stirling, and consultant medical staff at NHS Grampian and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the will attempt to see whether practising mindfulness leads to lower and reductions in anxiety and .

Some people with diabetes can find it difficult living with the condition and having to carry out complex tasks multiple times per day to regulate their blood .

About one third of adults with diabetes experience significant levels of anxiety and depression and this can make it even more difficult for them to manage effectively their condition.

A specially designed course has been shown in informal testing by psychologists in NHS Grampian to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms in people with diabetes. This pilot study will explore the effect of this treatment among adults with Type 1 diabetes, whose levels are markedly above certain recommended values, and the extent to which researchers are able to recruit to this kind of study. If successful, this will lay the groundwork for a larger-scale study.

Researchers are in the process of inviting volunteers to take part in the study.

Managing Type 1 diabetes

People with Type 1 diabetes have to continually balance three key factors of their life: carbohydrate in food drives blood glucose levels up, whereas injecting insulin and engaging in activity lowers glucose levels. Different foods have dissimilar amounts of glucose and release it at varying rates. Some insulins work in different ways, and some activities burn up glucose at quicker rates than others. It's an endless, complex balancing act.

"As well as trying their best to manage their condition, like everyone else, people with Type 1 diabetes have to deal with the usual ups and downs of life. It's not surprising that some people with diabetes can become anxious and depressed," explains Dr Andy Keen, a health psychologist specialising in diabetes at the University of Aberdeen and NHS Grampian, and chief investigator of the study.

"Both these conditions have characteristics that make managing diabetes even harder. For example, people who are anxious have high levels of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, and these cause glucose to be released into the bloodstream, driving up blood glucose levels. Also, depression is characterised by fatigue and low motivation, which can make it tricky to devote the time and energy required to manage complex long-term conditions like diabetes.

"Anxiety and depression are characterised by certain styles of thinking, namely worry and rumination. Worry is a style of thinking that focuses on imaginary future catastrophes that rarely, if ever, actually occur and is often accompanied by planning what to do should they happen. Rumination on the other hand is often focused on the past, and concerns continual reflections about our imagined failings and how, because of these, life is unlikely to improve. Psychologists and others believe that these unhelpful ways of thinking maintain anxiety and depression."

What is Mindfulness and how could it help?

"It is best to think of mindfulness as a skill," continues Dr Keen. "It is a way of helping people be better able to focus on the 'here and now' of their lives, and disengage with unhelpful ways of thinking, such as worry and rumination.

"If you change the way people think, then you change the way they feel. We definitely know that anxiety and depression can be significant barriers to effectively managing diabetes, and by alleviating these we can give people the opportunity to invest more time and energy into looking after themselves if they want to do that.

"One of the pioneering things we have done here in Aberdeen at the JJR McLeod Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism, is include in our mindfulness programmes a focus on promoting self-management because ideally we would like people to improve their quality of life as well as their health, not just the former."

The study will run for two years.

Participants will be expected to attend a mindfulness group one evening a week for eight weeks, and practice mindfulness at home. In addition to observing how well participants manage their blood glucose levels, and their levels of anxiety and depression before, during and after the study, researchers in Aberdeen and Glasgow will be evaluating the extent to which people with Type 1 are keen to engage in this kind of approach.

Explore further: Busting the myths about type 2 diabetes

Related Stories

Busting the myths about type 2 diabetes

July 10, 2015
When it comes to misunderstood medical conditions in Australia, type 2 diabetes is hard to beat.

Junk food causes similar high blood sugar levels as type 2 diabetes

May 10, 2016
A junk food diet can cause as much damage to the kidney as diabetes, according to a study published in Experimental Physiology.

Blood glucose monitor could benefit millions of diabetics

May 10, 2016
Professor Adrian Porch and his research team at the School of Engineering are developing a device which they believe could help millions of people with diabetes.

Everyday mindfulness linked to healthy glucose levels

February 23, 2016
Dispositional, or "everyday" mindfulness is the inherent trait of being aware of one's present thoughts and feelings. In a new study of 399 people that measured health indicators including dispositional mindfulness and blood ...

Salt reduction yields extra benefits for type 2 diabetes patients

May 11, 2016
In these patients, a reduction in salt intake led to a significant fall in blood pressure and urinary albumin excretion, a marker of cardiovascular disease. The reduction in urinary albumin excretion may carry additional ...

Is an insulin pump the best therapy for everyone with type 1 diabetes?

May 17, 2016
Insulin pump therapy contributes to better blood glucose control in type 1 diabetes and, as pump technology continues to improve and become part of sensor-controlled feedback and artificial pancreas systems, essentially all ...

Recommended for you

Researchers cure type 2 diabetes and obesity in mice using gene therapy

July 10, 2018
A research team from the UAB led by Professor Fatima Bosch has managed to cure obesity and type 2 diabetes in mice using gene therapy.

Human clinical trial reveals verapamil as an effective type 1 diabetes therapy

July 9, 2018
Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Diabetes Center have discovered a safe and effective novel therapy to reduce insulin requirements and hypoglycemic episodes in adult subjects with recent ...

New targets found to reduce blood vessel damage in diabetes

July 9, 2018
In diabetes, both the tightly woven endothelial cells that line our blood vessels and the powerhouses that drive those cells start to come apart as early steps in the destruction of our vasculature.

Insurance gaps linked to five-fold rise in hospital stays for adults with type 1 diabetes

July 9, 2018
For a million American adults, living with type 1 diabetes means a constant need for insulin medication, blood sugar testing supplies and specialized care, to keep them healthy and prevent a crisis that could end up in an ...

Abnormal branched-chain amino acid breakdown may raise diabetes risk

July 5, 2018
In the U.S., about five out of 100 expectant mothers develop gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), a temporary form of diabetes in which hormonal changes disrupt insulin function. Although GDM is often symptomless and subsides ...

Air pollution contributes significantly to diabetes globally

June 30, 2018
New research links outdoor air pollution—even at levels deemed safe—to an increased risk of diabetes globally, according to a study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs (VA) ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.