The People's Perspective on Medicine

Veterans Use Mindfulness to Help Control Blood Sugar

Mindfulness meditation and deep breathing exercises don’t sound like something that would appeal to veterans, but a new study suggests that these techniques can help people with diabetes control their blood sugar. A pilot study at the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs hospital taught vets stress reduction techniques. They practiced mindful movement and focused breathing and were instructed to do so for 15 minutes a day at home.

After three months of home practice, the veterans’ management of their diabetes had improved significantly. Their HbA1c, a marker of blood sugar control, had dropped from 8.3 to 7.3 on average. The investigators were pleasantly surprised that veterans who had been skeptical at first found that this new approach worked so well.

[American Association of Diabetes Educators Aug 6-9, 2014]

Any time an intervention without serious side effects can improve HbA1c this much, we cheer. We don’t know whether the VA and other health care institutions can make this appealing enough so that others beyond the small group of veterans who participated in the pilot will be willing to learn the techniques. Doctors have long known that stress makes blood sugar control much more difficult, but have not had great ways to help people reduce their stress. Now that they do, let’s hope the techniques become widely used.

To learn more about blood sugar control, you may wish to consult our Guide to Managing Diabetes.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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It also works for high B/P. It will bring it down, it just usually won’t stay down. One gets super relaxed with help from someone trained in this technique, or using yogi breathing techniques to take the brain to a self-induced hypnotic state where one can give the brain their own suggestion. This has been around for years, (probably several hundred) I had it 50 years ago for pre-natal classes to ease labor. It just wasn’t cost effective due to the time involved with classes every two weeks. It works.

This makes sense because all diabetics should know that stress or showing any kind of emotion including laughter raises blood sugar levels. Diabetics are supposed to be always calm, emotionless people. Unfortunately that isn’t how I am. I’m a woman of passion. I get upset. I laugh. Even watching some movies, and, of course, seeing or reading the latest news, raises my blood sugar. My doctor told me ten years ago to do deep breathing to help lower my blood sugar.

This is certainly very interesting, but it has been known (with measurable results) for several decades.
I did my psychology internship at the East Orange, NJ VA hospital. For 10 weeks, I taught a 1 hour, “diabetes stress management” class for veterans, which included both mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy. I’m sorry I don’t remember the source of the data at this point (this was 16 years ago) but I very carefully checked the research before teaching the class, and there was clear evidence that various stress reduction techniques reduced various markers of blood sugar. I don’t recall if the research specified mindfulness, but it was clear that mindfulness reduced all kinds of effects of stress, and that stress reduction in general lowered blood sugar levels, so it wasn’t an unreasonable stretch to assume that to the extent mindfulness reduced stress, that would affect blood sugar.
But I’m certainly glad this is getting more press. If everybody incorporated mindfulness, CBT, healthy eating, exercise and sleep habits into their lives – and just as important or even more important, developed a strong community support system (see the “Blue Zone” research) – the world would save trillions of dollars in health care costs, businesses around the world would save many billions of dollars (perhaps trillions?) in lost productivity, absenteeism, etc, – and maybe – can we dream – overall poverty levels would fall, international relations would improve, and…
well, if I go on too far I’ll lose credibility with everybody, but I think we can all agree, such simple measures, costing virtually nothing to implement if people have the motivation, would have astonishing, far-range results.
So, what are we waiting for?
don salmon

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