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Relaxation Therapy Helps Diabetics' Blood Sugar
What the Study Showed

In a study published in the journal Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, the researchers found that diabetics who were highly depressed and anxious were less likely to lower their blood sugar levels with relaxation therapy.

How It Was Done

Eighteen subjects with insulin dependent diabetes completed this study. The subjects measured their blood sugar at home three times a day and recorded the results in a log book over 3-4 weeks. Initially, the subjects provided a history of their illness and took psychological tests that measured anxiety, depression and daily hassles. Blood was taken to determine their blood sugar regulation over the previous weeks. During the next period, the subjects watched a video on how to manage their diabetes and met with a nurse who discussed their condition. Over the next 3 weeks, they continued monitoring their blood sugar daily. At the end of this period, blood was taken and the psychological tests were administered again. In addition, heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and finger temperature -- all which can provide an index of anxiety -- were also measured. Finally, the subjects were divided into 2 groups: the control group continued recording blood sugar. Every other week, they met with the nurse who reviewed their log book. The experimental group also did these activities, but, in addition, they learned biofeedback assisted relaxation in twelve 45 minute sessions. They were taught how to regulate their breathing and to repeat certain phrases that would assist with relaxation. They were to practice this at home 15-20 minutes twice a day. The subjects monitored the muscle tension in their forehead and the temperature in their finger as feedback to gauge how successful each session was in reducing tension. Four weeks after the treatment ended, all the subjects were retested: blood samples were taken and both psychological and the physiological tests were administered. Three months later, only the experimental group was retested.

Why Its Important

The investigators found that depression, anxiety and hassles significant impacted whether blood sugar would drop with relaxation therapy in diabetics. When the researchers examined only the 12 subjects who were not depressed, those who participated in relaxation therapy had a significant decline (9%) in their blood sugar compared with the controls. This finding was similar to what was found when they looked at 9 nonanxious subjects (12% decline). However, individuals who were highly depressed and anxious didn't benefit from relaxation. It's hypothesized that, among other things, perhaps they simply didn't practice enough at home.

Other research has suggested that depression can significantly affect diabetics in terms of being linked to more complications and poorer blood sugar control. Antidepressants may improve blood sugar perhaps irrespective of their effect on mood. Even cognitive behavioral therapy can help diabetics with blood sugar control.

It's unclear how stress can impact blood sugar, but some work suggests it can have a direct effect on the body. Aside from that, stress can also make it less likely that patients will be highly involved in health promoting behaviors.

The studies on biofeedback in diabetics have been inconsistent, with some showing no change in blood sugar and others revealing a significant benefit. Nonetheless, according to the investigators: "A specific subgroup of person with insulin dependent diabetes or noninsulin dependent diabetes have the potential to benefit from relaxation-based therapies."

Date Published: 02/14/2000
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