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Researchers discover a surprising connection between emotions and type 1 diabetes

Managing diabetes is not just about medication and diet; it's also about handling the emotional toll that comes with the condition.
Managing diabetes is not just about medication and diet; it's also about handling the emotional toll that comes with the condition. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Managing diabetes is not just about medication and diet; it's also about handling the emotional toll that comes with the condition. A new study led by researchers at UC San Francisco reveals that focusing on the emotional aspects of diabetes can significantly reduce distress and improve glucose control.

Diabetes distress (DD) is the fear, worry, and stress that accompany living with diabetes. It impacts up to 75% of adults with Type 1 diabetes and can lead to poor self-care, like missing medication or experiencing erratic glucose levels. This distress can lower the quality of life for those affected.


The study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, examined three different virtual group programs aimed at helping adults manage their diabetes. These programs included a general diabetes education course, an emotional support course named TunedIn, and a combination of both approaches.

The Power of Emotional Focus

All three programs in the study resulted in significant reductions in diabetes distress and improved hemoglobin A1C levels, a key measure of glucose control. However, the TunedIn program, which centered on emotional management, stood out as the most effective. It provided more consistent benefits than any other intervention studied so far.


"Most patients with diabetes have never heard of diabetes distress or been asked about it, and don’t understand that it can be alleviated," explained Dr. Danielle Hessler Jones, a professor at UCSF and the study’s lead author. "Knowing virtual group-based programs are effective presents an opportunity to change that."

The study involved 276 adults with Type 1 diabetes who were struggling with high levels of diabetes distress. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the three programs, each featuring a mix of virtual meetings, group workshops, group calls, and a one-on-one session with an instructor over three to four months.


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After one year, the results were striking. Half of the participants in the TunedIn program no longer experienced diabetes distress, compared to only 27% in the education-focused group and 31% in the combined group.

Additionally, 56% of those in the TunedIn program saw their A1C levels drop by 0.5% or more, which is both clinically and statistically significant.


TunedIn utilizes principles from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which helps individuals understand how their emotions and beliefs can influence their behaviors. ACT strategies have been effective in managing a range of chronic illnesses and stress-related conditions.

"Providing individuals with Type 1 diabetes with opportunities to recognize and observe these processes, and to ‘stand beside them,’ may enable them to make different choices, choices that can have positive impacts on their health and wellbeing," said Jones.


Integrating Emotional Care into Diabetes Treatment

The findings from this research have prompted the UCSF Diabetes Center to include diabetes distress screening in their routine practice. Dr. Umesh Masharani, a UCSF professor of endocrinology and co-author of the study, emphasized the importance of addressing the emotional side of living with diabetes.

"If you don't address the emotional part of living with the illness, you don’t do well," Masharani said. "It’s important that clinicians are trained on how to have these conversations with their patients as part of normal care."


TunedIn offers a promising solution for patients who cannot access specialized care for diabetes distress. The success of the program has attracted global interest, with co-author Dr. Lawrence Fisher, an emeritus professor at UCSF, working on implementing similar programs in the UK and Europe.

"With so few mental health specialists and psychologists trained in diabetes, virtual programs are really needed to be able to bring this type of evidence-based treatment to patients who can’t come to us," Jones added.


The study underscores the critical role of emotional support in managing diabetes. Programs like TunedIn not only help reduce distress but also improve overall health outcomes for patients. As virtual healthcare options continue to expand, such programs could become a vital part of diabetes care worldwide.

For more science news stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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