Recent research showed that mindfulness meditation can also help people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Not surprisingly, meditation and yoga have been found to reduce stress. They have also been found to reduce pain levels. But can these mind-body practices bring about a physical change that is as measurable as lowering blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes? Quite possibly, at least in some cases.
Mindfulness for overweight people
A study found that, in overweight and obese women, taking a course of mindfulness and meditation not only decreased stress and improved quality of life, but was also linked to lower blood glucose levels.
The women who participated in the study were randomly assigned to one of two groups; those in the control group took a general course in diabetes management health education. And this group got some benefits as well, like reduced anxiety. But the biggest benefits, including improved blood sugar levels, were seen in the group that took the stress reduction course.
Doctors have been aware that there is a link between stress and blood glucose levels.
"In people with type 2 diabetes, mental stress often raises blood glucose levels," reports the American Diabetes Association. The link is less noticeable in people with type 1 diabetes, although physical stress raises blood glucose levels for both groups, the association clarified.
A study led by, assistant professor of medicine and obstetrics and gynecology at Penn State College of Medicine, indicates that understanding the stress-blood glucose relationship may be helpful in regulating blood sugar levels in people with and without diabetes, or at least in obese and overweight women.
Mindfulness to lower fasting blood sugar levels
Taking a mindfulness course " significantly reduces glucose during fasting and improves quality of life without changing body weight or insulin resistance, " said the professor during the conference of the Endocrine Society, where she presented her findings.
Their study examined the effect of an eight-week series of courses called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), The meditation and other mindfulness techniques to benefit patients with physical ailments.
"The MBSR may be a tool with potential to help patients struggling with their diabetes achieve better blood sugar control and ultimately reduce the risk of serious diabetes complications.
Researchers have long known that stress is more than just an uncomfortable feeling. Chronic stress has profound and measurable effects on people's mental and physical health, depending on how often they visit their doctor and how many medications they need for certain conditions.
Stress as an unbalancing factor for blood sugar levels
Of course, stress also lowers our quality of life. Studies show that our tendency not to focus on our surroundings and what we are doing, but rather to worry about things beyond our control, makes us less happy.
People with chronic stress experience irritability, fatigue, and other symptoms. And high levels of stress are associated with other diseases and with a reduced ability to cope with chronic pain and other health problems. People who undergo stress reduction programs are significantly less likely to seek medical care, according to a study in PLoS One.
A study found that consistent practice of MBSR also appeared to increase immune system function. Patients who attended meditation courses had higher antibody levels than a control group when both received flu shots.
Mindfulness can transform the brain
This practice can literally change the structure of the brain. A study led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital documented brain changes that were produced by meditation for eight weeks. The participants showed growth in areas of the brain that help with learning, cognition, memory, emotional regulation, empathy and compassion. The amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response, and which is associated with stress, anxiety and fear, had gotten smaller.
Raja-Khan said he is seeking a grant to study the impact of the stress reduction effects of the course on people with diabetes, this time on a larger population.
"For the next study, I am interested in studying MBSR in patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, both men and women," she said.
The findings of their study confirmed those of previous preliminary research conducted without a control group. In a article in the journal Alternative Therapies, a team of researchers led by a professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College found that the same stress reduction course significantly lowered blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. and that "symptoms of depression, anxiety and general psychological distress decreased by 43%, 37% and 35%, respectively".
Raja-Khan's study was funded by the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the NIH's National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences funded the study.
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