Meditation may reduce risk of diabetes complications, Mercer study finds

Woman in Red Shirt Sitting on Couch Meditating
Photo by Mikael Blomkvist/Pexels

Meditation may help people improve their self-management of Type 2 diabetes, leading to reduced risks of complications from the disease, a Mercer University professor has found. 

Dr. Seongkum Heo, professor and Piedmont Healthcare endowed chair in the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing, set out to examine the effects of meditation on factors affected by a person’s self-care, such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity.  

“We found that meditation was effective in reducing hemoglobin A1C,” said Dr. Heo, the lead author of the study, “Effects of Meditation Intervention on Self-management in Adult Patients With Type 2 Diabetes.” The findings were published earlier this year in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing

Hemoglobin A1C measures a person’s average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months. A higher A1C level indicates poorer blood sugar control and a higher risk for diabetes complications, so lowering hemoglobin A1C reduces this risk. 

The authors — who also included Mercer Ph.D. candidate Erica Umeakunne and College of Nursing faculty Dr. Tara F. Bertulfo, Dr. Tammy Barbé, Dr. Vicki Black and Dr. Justus Randolph, as well as others outside the University — specifically looked at the effects of mindfulness meditation on diabetes self-care. Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which a person focuses on being intensely aware of their senses and feelings in the moment and recognizes them without judgment.  

“You can just check each body part, whether you have any feelings or sense. Then, you can recognize if there is any unusual sense or feeling,” said Dr. Heo, who is a certified meditation teacher. “For example, if a person has edema, then the person can feel a pressure. Then, that person may take some action early enough to prevent the worsening of the symptoms.” 

In short, mindfulness meditation helps people become in tune with their bodies and intervene when they notice something isn’t right. This early action can help prevent complications in the future, she said. 

The study was conducted by doing a literature review of published research on the topic. While the authors found mindfulness meditation reduced A1C levels, other self-care management factors were only marginally impacted. In addition, Dr. Heo wants to find out whether adding compassion meditation to mindfulness meditation can improve results. 

Compassion meditation is like mindfulness meditation but adds a level of compassion and appreciation for the body. Where mindfulness meditation is neutral, compassion meditation is positive, she said.  

The literature review was the first stage of Dr. Heo’s research. The second stage is an online diabetes survey. 

“We wanted to know what kind of psychological and social factors affect the patients’ self-care and diabetes complications,” she said. “So, what we hope we can prove here is that compassion, resilience and coping skills are psychological factors strongly associated with self-care and diabetes complications.” 

If the researchers can prove that, the research team will go on to conduct a study on each meditation’s effects. 

“We want to see whether mindfulness meditation and compassion meditation have the same impact or a different impact and also whether we need to provide the traditional eight-week intervention or if a four-week intervention can have a sufficient impact,” she said. 

Patients sometimes wonder why they should care about their health if they have a disease that can’t be cured, but appropriate self-care can reduce symptoms and hospitalizations,  Dr. Heo said. 

“I think meditation can change a person’s perspective about themselves and also the self-care they are doing,” she said. 


Do you have a story idea or viewpoint you'd like to share with The Den?
Get in touch with us by emailing or submitting this online form.