You've been told a meditation practice can help you better manage the stress in your life, but did you know it might help you manage your blood sugar levels, too?
A new Brown University study published in the American Journal of Health Behavior found a link between a high level of mindfulness and healthy levels of glucose, the blood sugar that can inform a person's risk of developing diseases like Type 2 diabetes and other aspects of metabolic syndrome.
While the study didn't explore why this might be, its authors point to previous research on mindfulness, or the practice of being aware of one's thoughts and feelings in the present moment. Other studies have shown that mindfulness lowers people's risk of obesity and helps them feel a greater sense of self-control over their lives.
To understand the relationship between glucose levels and mindfulness, Eric Loucks, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health, assessed 399 participants who are participating in the long-term New England Family Study.
The study participants took part in both psychological and physiological tests, including glucose tests and completing the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, a 15-item questionnaire that assesses mindfulness on a 1 to 6 scale. Demographic and health information, including BMIs, education, blood pressure, perceived stress and depression, was collected as well.
Loucks and his team found that people with the highest MAAS scores of 6 were 35 percent more likely to have healthy glucose levels compared to those with MAAS scores under 4, which is considerably low.
High glucose levels are often associated with Type 2 diabetes, but this new study did not show a direct link between mindfulness and diabetes itself. While the researchers did find that those with higher MAAS scores were about 20 percent less likely to be diabetic, Lockus said the sample size of the study was too small to make any definitive claims.
More research must be done to explore how mindfulness affects blood sugar, but the reseachers are hopeful their results will lead to further inquiry.
"There’s been almost no epidemiological observational study investigations on the relationship of mindfulness with diabetes or any cardiovascular risk factor,” Loucks said in a statement. “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.”
What's perhaps most exciting about this new finding is the fact that a mindfulness practice is that something that can be taught and learned, meaning that those at-risk for diabetes may have the ability to decrease their chances of illness with their own habits.
“As mindfulness is likely a modifiable trait, this study provides preliminary evidence for a fairly novel and modifiable potential determinant of diabetes risk," Lockus said.
There are many types of mindfulness practices and many ways to go about starting one. Experts suggest starting out small, spending just a few minutes a day focused on your present thoughts. For some, five minutes might be enough to gain the benefits of being still.
CORRECTION: Based on information from Brown University, a previous version of this story reported that MAAS is scored on a scale of 1-7, and that people with scores of 6 or 7 were more likely to have healthy glucose levels. However, MAAS is determined using a scale of 1-6, and the participants in question are those who scored a 6 on the test. The story has been updated to reflect this change.