Researchers have discovered that being aware of one’s present thoughts and feelings is a trait associated with healthy levels of blood glucose.
This dispositional or “everyday” mindfulness is often an inherent or natural trait, but also a behavior that can be learned and improved.
In the study, researchers measured health indicators including dispositional mindfulness and blood glucose among 399 people. They found that those with higher scores for mindfulness were significantly more likely than people with low scores to have healthy glucose levels.
The research suggests that improving one’s ability to live in the moment and to be mindful of thoughts and feelings can be an important factor for maintaining mental and physical health.
Brown University researchers say that although the association does not prove cause and effect, it does support the premise that increased mindfulness can improve cardiovascular health.
For investigators, the overarching hypotheses is that people practicing higher degrees of mindfulness may be better able to motivate themselves to perform regular exercise and have a healthy diet. Specifically, they may be able to resist cravings for high-fat, high-sugar treats, and to stick with health regimens recommended by their doctors.
To explore these beliefs, researchers sought to identify factors that might explain the connection they saw between higher mindfulness and healthier glucose levels.
Their analysis of the data showed that obesity risk (mindful people are less likely to be obese) and sense of control (mindful people are more likely to believe they can change many of the important things in their life) both contribute to the link.
“This study demonstrated a significant association of dispositional mindfulness with glucose regulation, and provided novel evidence that obesity and sense of control may serve as potential mediators of this association,” wrote the authors, led by Dr. Eric Loucks, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health.
“As mindfulness is likely a modifiable trait, this study provides preliminary evidence for a fairly novel and modifiable potential determinant of diabetes risk.”
The study, published in the American Journal of Health Behavior, did not show a direct, statistically significant link between mindfulness and type II 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 II diabetes, but the total number of people in the study with the condition may have been too small to allow for definitive findings, Loucks said.
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 one to seven 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 six or seven were 35 percent more likely to have healthy glucose levels under 100 milligrams per deciliter than people with low MAAS scores below four.
The analysis found that obesity made about a three percentage point difference of the total 35-percent point risk difference. Sense of control accounted for another eight 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 said.
“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.”