This Study Shows The Role Of The Mind In Blood Sugar Management

When I was health coaching, I spoke to my clients about mindfulness and mindset just as much as I did about nutrition and exercise. Why? Because the mind plays a powerful role in our health; not only in the belief we have for achieving our goals, but in the actual physiological reactions we have to food and other health habits.

Blood sugar management (which also happens to be a major tenet in the Healthified philosophy) largely impacts everything from metabolism to disease prevention. In a nutshell, when you eat, your pancreas responds by releasing the hormone insulin. Insulin is an anabolic (i.e. storage) hormone, meaning it is responsible for ushering the glucose from broken down carbohydrates to your cells for energy. It is important and necessary, but like with anything, there can be too much of a good thing.

An analogy I like to to use to explain what happens when blood sugar mechanisms go haywire is pretend you just walked into a party. The music is really loud, and at first, with your ears being the sensitive organs that they are, you find yourself uncomfortably covering them up. But after a few minutes, as you are making your rounds, you become desensitized to the sound. You are able to mingle freely.

When one over-consumes carbohydrates and sugar, and your pancreas is continuously pumping out insulin, (which is then consistently floating around in your bloodstream), your cells can become desensitized to the hormone’s message. In other words, whereas insulin is supposed to hold the key to “unlock” your cells to allow the glucose in, the key suddenly doesn’t work, or it becomes stuck. Your pancreas then gets the memo that your body needs more insulin in order to get the job done. If this continues, that is when you enter the territory of insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and eventually, type 2 diabetes.

So does the mind play a role in this reaction as well? This study says so. There have been numerous studies conducted which conclude that perceptions can influence our physiological reality (take the placebo effect for example), but making the connection with metabolism has been less common.

Researchers set out to make the claim that perceived rather than actual sugar intake influences blood glucose levels in those with type 2 diabetes. Participants were to drink beverages containing identical amounts of sugar, but were labeled differently (low sugar vs. high sugar). Other psychological factors that influence blood sugar – stress, hunger, satiation, emotions, and mood – were taken into account as well. After drinking the beverage, participants’ blood glucose levels were measured in four increments: immediately, 20 minutes later, 40 minutes later, and an hour later.

The results are fascinating. Despite the drinks containing the same amount of sugar, blood glucose levels were higher in those participants who believed they were ingesting more sugar than they actually were. These findings suggest that biological factors and hormonal regulation associated with blood sugar are not the only elements that should be considered. Expectations, stress, hunger cues, and emotional eating patterns need to be taken into account as well. More importantly, it must become more mainstream that the mind is an important tool in health and healing.