We manage our diabetes better when we feel positive emotions, the most important of which is awe. This is the conclusion of research that the American Psychological Association’s professional journal Emotion will publish.
Jennifer Stellar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto, is the lead author of a study linking emotions and those proteins in our bodies that regulate inflammation. It connects with earlier studies had linked those proteins with the development of diabetes.
The abstract of the study, rather than the full article, is online at “Positive Affect and Markers of Inflammation.” But the press office of the University of California, Berkeley, where Dr. Stellar did her research, sent me the draft of her study.
Positive Emotions Feel Good and Are Good
We have long known that negative emotions and poor health are linked, Dr. Stellar writes. “But only recently has research begun to acknowledge the important role of positive emotions for our physical health.” Her new study “demonstrates that positive emotions not only feel good; they are good for the body,” Dr. Stellar says.
The new study zeroed in on amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love, and pride, all of which are positive emotions, she writes. But the awe that we can feel when we connect with nature, art, or spirituality “had the strongest relationship of any positive emotion.”
The protein involved in this linkage is a type of pro-inflammatory cytokine called interleukin-6, explains UC Berkeley psychology professor Dr. Dacher Keltner, one of the study’s coauthors. “That awe, wonder, and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions — a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art — has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.”
The Most Important is Awe
Of all the positive emotions that we feel, why does awe do the most good? “Awe is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore,” Dr. Stellar says. “This suggests antithetical behavioral responses to those found during inflammation, where individuals typically withdraw from others in their environment.”
The study was based on two separate experiments testing more than 200 young adults. They reported on how much they had experienced these seven positive emotions. The researchers took samples of gum and cheek tissue that same day. The samples showed that those who experienced more of these positive emotions had the lowest level of the pro-inflammatory cytokine called interleukin 6, which is a prime marker of inflammation.
Several earlier studies had connected elevated levels of these pro-inflammatory cytokines to the onset and progression of diabetes as well as other chronic diseases. Most relevant to those of us who have diabetes, however is the study, “Inflammation, stress, and diabetes,” in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. You can read the full-text of that study free online.
When we are full of awe, diabetes isn’t awful. Our life can be awesome.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.
Never Miss An Update
Subscribe to my free newsletter “Diabetes Update”
I send out my newsletter on first of every month. It covers new articles and columns that I have written and important developments in diabetes generally that you may have missed.