Penn State Health Scientists to Study Mindfulness in Diabetes Management

Penn State Health researchers are studying the role of mindfulness in helping people manage type I or type 2 diabetes, chronic health conditions that affect how the body converts food into energy.

Dr. Nazia Raja-Khan, who is leading the clinical trials, says stress has a dramatic effect on body systems, including blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Mindfulness helps reduce stress, which means it can be a way to help people manage their blood sugar levels, said Raja-Khan, associate professor of medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry and behavioral health at Penn State.

Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment without being judgmental, she said.

“You can start with an exercise on breathing and how to pay attention to your breathing. You don’t really need to come to class with any prior skills.

Participants in the variable group in this study will benefit from two months of intensive guided mindfulness practice as well as regular “reminder” sessions for an additional four months.

The study will look at hemoglobin A1C – a measure of blood sugar levels over time – as well as perceived stress levels.

The Raja-Khan said the hope was to find other ways to help people manage their diabetes.

This work grew out of a previous mindfulness study that looked at overweight women, Raja-Khan said. During this study, researchers noticed a drop in blood sugar levels in some participants.

Nearly 300 people will participate in the research. Some are recruited from Penn State Health. Others come from elsewhere in the United States

Lancaster-based maternal-fetal medicine specialist Dr Robert Larkin, who is not involved in the study, said the research was promising.

“There’s not a lot of research on this, quite frankly, and most of it hasn’t been randomized controlled trials,” Larkin said.

Larkin said his patients with diabetes responded well to behavioral changes. He said he expects more work to be done to find out what types of patients respond best to behavioral interventions such as mindfulness.

Raja-Khan said work like this could help change insurance industry attitudes toward non-pharmaceutical treatments such as mindfulness sessions.

According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 1.4 million people in Pennsylvania have diabetes.

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