The Power of Positive Thinking — on Diabetes

According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 100 adults in the United States are now living with diabetes or prediabetes. Among these individuals, 30 million already have diabetes, while the rest are an increased risk of developing it. For individuals 65 and older, the percentages are much higher: an alarming 25% are currently living with this disease.

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. It exacerbates a wide variety of health disorders, especially cardiovascular disease, and is a leading cause of blindness and limb amputation.

Numerous studies have shown that a person’s psychology can significantly influence their risk of developing diabetes. For example, people with depression have a far greater risk of diabetes than people without the disorder. For this reason, many doctors have suggested that depression be included among the major risk factors for diabetes.

However, until recently there were very few studies that looked at the reverse situation: how does positive thinking affect a person’s risk for developing diabetes? True, depression increases the risk of diabetes, but does the power of positive thinking have a protective effect against this disease?

A recent study led by Dr. Juhua Luo, of the School of Public Health at Indiana University in Bloomington investigated this question. Using data collected from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), Dr. Lua and a group of colleagues studied approximately 140,000 postmenopausal women who had no diagnosis of diabetes at the beginning of the study. The participants’ health was followed carefully for the next 14 years. In that time, more than 19,000 women were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

The scientists divided the women’s personality traits into four groups, defined by their general levels of optimism, negativity and hostility. After their analysis was complete, the researchers were able to conclude that women with the highest levels of optimism were 12% less likely to develop diabetes than those with low levels of optimism. The research also confirmed that women with high levels of hostility were 17% more likely to develop diabetes than women without this negative character trait.

According to Dr. Lua, “Low optimism and high negativity and hostility were associated with increased risk of diabetes among postmenopausal women, independent of major health behaviors and depressive symptoms.”

She further added that, “In addition to efforts to promote healthy behaviors, women’s personality traits should be considered to guide clinical or programmatic intervention strategies in diabetes prevention.”

The study was published in Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, the executive director of NAMS, pointed out that it is important for people to understand that personality traits remain stable across one’s lifetime. Consequently, doctors who are aware that their patients have low optimism or high negativity and hostility, along with other risks for diabetes, could and should have diabetes prevention programs specifically tailored for their needs.

The take-away message for all of us is that the power of positive thinking is not just a pleasant saying, but a scientifically proven concept. Activities that give us joy, provide relaxation, or induce a pleasant outlook on life can provide protection against disease and illness.

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