“Everyday” mindfulness is an awareness of your thoughts and feelings. And people who have it tend to have healthy glucose levels, research shows.
They also are less likely to be obese, and they’re more likely to believe they can change many of the important things in their life—two factors that scientists suspect may contribute to the healthy glucose levels.
Their overarching hypotheses are that people practicing higher degrees of mindfulness may be better able to motivate themselves to exercise, to resist cravings for high-fat, high-sugar treats, and to stick with diet and exercise regimens recommended by their doctors.
The study, published in the American Journal of Health Behavior in March, did not show a direct, statistically significant link between mindfulness and Type 2 diabetes risk, which is the medical concern related to elevated blood glucose.
Participants with high levels of mindfulness were about 20 percent less likely to have Type 2 diabetes, but the total number of people in the study with the condition may have been too small to allow for definitive findings, says Eric Loucks, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health, who led the study.
To gather their data, Loucks and his team enrolled 399 volunteers who’ve been participating in the New England Family Study. The subjects participated in several psychological and physiological tests, including glucose tests and the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), a 15-item questionnaire to assess dispositional mindfulness on a 1 to 7 scale.
The researchers also collected data on a host of other potentially relevant demographic and health traits, including body-mass index, smoking, education, depression, blood pressure, perceived stress, and sense of control.
After adjusting their data to account for such confounding factors as age, sex, race, or ethnicity, family history of diabetes, and childhood socioeconomic status, the researchers found that people with high MAAS scores of 6 or 7 were 35 percent more likely to have healthy glucose levels under 100 milligrams per deciliter than people with low MAAS scores below 4.
The analysis found that obesity made about a 3 percentage-point difference of the total 35 percentage-point risk difference. Sense of control accounted for another 8 percentage points of the effect. The rest may derive from factors the study didn’t measure, but at least now researchers have begun to elucidate the possible mechanisms that link mindfulness to glucose regulation.
“There’s been almost no epidemiological observational study investigations on the relationship of mindfulness with diabetes or any cardiovascular risk factor,” Loucks says. “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.”
The National Institutes of Health supported the study.