Brain activity helps explain diabetics' negative feelings, risk for depression

May 7, 2018 by Angie Hunt, Iowa State University
Data collected through EEG and with eye electrodes allowed researchers to measure brain activity and startle response. Credit: Christopher Gannon, Iowa State University

For millions of Americans who are obese and living with diabetes or prediabetes, feelings of sadness, anger and anxiety are often part of daily life.

A new Iowa State University study suggests those negative feelings may stem from problems regulating levels that influence emotional response in the brain. The study found people with Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes were more likely to focus on and have a strong emotional response to threats and negative things, which affects quality of life and increases risk for depression. The research is published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Auriel Willette, an ISU assistant professor of food science and human nutrition; Tovah Wolf, lead author and a graduate student working with Willette on this project; and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison analyzed data on startle response, brain activity, and cognitive assessment. Data for the study came from Midlife in the U.S. (MIDUS), a national study of health and well-being.

Willette says gauging the startle response allowed researchers to measure central nervous system activity using tiny electrodes placed below the eye. Study participants viewed a series of negative, positive and neutral images intended to elicit an . The electrodes captured the rate of flinch or startle, a contraction we cannot control, associated with each image, he said.

"People with higher levels of insulin resistance were more startled by negative pictures. By extension, they may be more reactive to negative things in life," Willette said. "It is one piece of evidence to suggest that these metabolic problems are related to issues with how we perceive and deal with things that stress all of us out."

The researchers say the evidence is even more compelling when combined with the results of EEG tests recording activity when the brain is at rest. Study participants with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes had more activity on the right side of the brain, which is associated with depression and negative emotions. If someone is predisposed to focusing on negative things, it may become a barrier for losing weight and reversing health issues, Wolf said.

People with prediabetes and diabetes also recorded lower cortisol levels - a potential indicator of chronic stress - and cognitive test scores, providing additional support for the findings.

Personal motivation

Understanding the effect of these biological factors is an important step in helping improve the quality of life for the one-third of Americans who are obese. Wolf, a registered dietitian, says her experience working with patients suffering from chronic diseases led her to this line of research. She often noticed differences in how patients responded to stress and wondered if that influenced their motivation to live a healthy life.

"For people with blood sugar problems, being more stressed and reactive can cause blood sugar to spike. If people with prediabetes and diabetes are trying to reverse or treat the disease, stressful events may hinder their goals," Wolf said. "Frequent negative reactions to stressful events can lead to a lower quality of life and create a vicious cycle that makes it difficult to be healthy."

Willette can relate. He struggled with weight, at one time weighing 260 pounds, which affected his day-to-day quality of life. Willette says the risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses related to obesity is well known, but many people may not recognize how fluctuations in blood sugar can take a toll on them every day.

Explore further: Insulin resistance increases risk for Alzheimer's disease, study finds

More information: Tovah Wolf et al, Neural, Hormonal, and Cognitive Correlates of Metabolic Dysfunction and Emotional Reactivity, Psychosomatic Medicine (2018). DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000582

Related Stories

Insulin resistance increases risk for Alzheimer's disease, study finds

July 27, 2015
The fact that obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers is well known. But a new Iowa State University study adds to the growing evidence that memory loss should also be a top concern.

New biomarker predicts Alzheimer's disease and link to diabetes

December 19, 2016
An enzyme found in the fluid around the brain and spine is giving researchers a snapshot of what happens inside the minds of Alzheimer's patients and how that relates to cognitive decline.

Hypertension plus prediabetes a dangerous duo for the heart

April 18, 2018
High blood pressure and prediabetes together may do more harm to the body than either one alone.

Study finds prediabetes patients at heightened risk for cardiovascular and chronic kidney diseases

March 1, 2018
Researchers at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that high proportions of patients with prediabetes are at substantial risk for cardiovascular disease ...

Canakinumab doesn't prevent prediabetes from progressing to diabetes

March 12, 2018
The anti-inflammatory drug canakinumab had no effect on rates of newly diagnosed diabetes in people who had prediabetes (elevated blood sugar levels at risk of developing into diabetes), according to research presented at ...

Brain scans show why some type 1 diabetics miss low blood sugar cues

February 2, 2018
The brains of people with type 1 diabetes react differently to low blood sugar compared with healthy adults, say Yale researchers.

Recommended for you

Weight gain after smoking cessation linked to increased short-term diabetes risk

August 15, 2018
People who gain weight after they quit smoking may face a temporary increase in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, with the risk directly proportional to the weight gain, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan ...

Researchers show that category learning can be influenced by where an object is in our field of vision

August 15, 2018
We humans are pros at category learning—the process by which we classify things, whether objects, concepts or events, into groups that share certain features that are relevant to us. We do it when we distinguish friends ...

Researchers link animosity in couples to inflammation, bacteria in bloodstream

August 15, 2018
Married people who fight nastily are more likely to suffer from leaky guts—a problem that unleashes bacteria into the blood and can drive up disease-causing inflammation, new research suggests.

Evening preference, lack of sleep associated with higher BMI in people with prediabetes

August 15, 2018
People with prediabetes who go to bed later, eat meals later and are more active and alert later in the day—those who have an "evening preference"—have higher body mass indices compared with people with prediabetes who ...

Male tobacco smokers have brain-wide reduction of CB1 receptors

August 15, 2018
Chronic, frequent tobacco smokers have a decreased number of cannabinoid CB1 receptors, the "pot receptor", when compared with non-smokers, reports a study in Biological Psychiatry.

Unwanted or unplanned babies likely have more troubled close relationships

August 15, 2018
Findings appearing in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships show people who believe they resulted from unwanted or unplanned pregnancies tend to have more insecure relationship styles as adults.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

kdn
not rated yet May 07, 2018
This is a correlation – it is not causal. Lots of research has shown that it is our 'experiences' that bring about changes in the brain and neurochemicals. When mice are subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) their neurochemicals change and these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when animals are released). Likewise, no one likes to be diagnosed with a chronic condition, and as a result, the stress of this diagnosis leads to bio-molecular changes.

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.