An estimated 285,000,000 people throughout the world suffer from diabetes. The primary cause is considered to be a combination of an ageing population, obesity, poor diet and a lack of exercise. Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (1) has uncovered a potentially new contributing factor. The research examines the role stress plays in the treatment of diabetes and if meditation can be used as a complimentary treatment.
To date much of the research around meditation looks at its effect on anxiety and depression, overlooking the physiological changes in people with long-term conditions. The study aimed to understand the effects of meditation on people suffering from both diabetes and coronary heart disease.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is the body’s inability to either produce or use insulin. Without insulin our bodies become tired, we can experience unexplained weight loss, blurred vision and frequent urination especially at night. Insulin is required to regulate the metabolism of carbohydrates and promotes the absorption of glucose in our blood, ultimately delivering it to our muscles.
Around 90% of all diabetics have Type 2 diabetes characterised by the bodys’ resistance to insulin. It can often be a pre-cursor to Type 1 Diabetes where ultimately the pancreas no longer produces any significant amount of Insulin. Frequently injections are required to provide the body with the necessary Insulin.
The role stress plays in Diabetics
When we experience a stressful event our bodies produce more of the stress hormone cortisol. While perfectly designed from an evolutionary perspective where the increase in cortisol historically gave us the physical boost needed to run away from danger, the modern world is so different from what our bodies were initially designed for, every day can tax our nervous system and our stress response is frequently on high alert. Cortisol, while helpful in the short term, can actually damage and harm our bodies over time.
With regards to Diabetes, cortisol can increase the body’s resistance to insulin, causing the pancreas to produce more until it eventually becomes fatigued and worn out.
With between 20-40% of outpatients suffering from diabetes experiencing elevated levels of emotional stress, the research was designed to look at the practice of meditation and if psychological intervention could have a positive effect on our stress response system and ultimately the effects of diabetes.
The study examined 103 patients with a history of chronic heart disease and diabetes. The sample was split into two groups and monitored over a period of 16 weeks. One group was given health education while the other took part in a 16-week meditation course.
At the end of the 16 weeks the group who had taken part in the meditation course had significantly lower levels of blood pressure, improved blood glucose and higher levels of insulin throughout their body. Ultimately reducing insulin resistance and the severity of diabetes symptoms.
There appears to be positive physiological effects with regular meditation that modulates are response to stressful stimuli. Similar to conditioning the body when we exercise, meditation trains the mind to become less susceptible to the effects of stress.
This article was written by Nick Huxsted works at Will Williams Meditation London, helping people live the happiest, healthiest lives they can and reach their full potential.
Chris Keyworth, Jasmin Knopp, Kate Roughley, Chris Dickens, Stuart Bold, Peter Coventry. A Mixed-Methods Pilot Study of the Acceptability and Effectiveness of a Brief Meditation and Mindfulness Intervention for People with Diabetes and Coronary Heart Disease. Behavioral Medicine, 2014; 40 (2): 53 DOI:1080/08964289.2013.834865