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Penn State Health scientists to study mindfulness in managing diabetes

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

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

Dr. Nazia Raja-Khan, who is leading the clinical trials, says stress has a huge effect on the body’s systems — including blood sugar levels among people living with diabetes.

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

Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment in a non-judgmental way, she said.

“You may just start out with an exercise about breathing and how to pay attention to your breath. You don’t really need to come to the class with prior skill.”

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

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

Raja-Khan said the hope is to find more ways to help people manage their diabetes.

This work came out of a previous mindfulness study that focused on overweight women, Raja-Khan said. During that study, researchers noticed lower blood sugar among some participants.

Nearly 300 people will participate in the research. Some are recruited from Penn State Health. Others are from elsewhere in the U.S.

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

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

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

Raja-Khan said work such as this may help to change insurance industry attitudes around non-pharmaceutical treatments such as mindfulness sessions.

More than 1.4 million people in Pennsylvania have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Read more from our partners, WITF.