Diabetes: How optimism may influence your risk

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By Ana Sandoiu 

Fact checked by Gianna D’Emilio

New research suggests that
optimism may have a protective effect against type 2 diabetes in postmenopausal

In addition to lifestyle
factors such as physical activity, optimistic personality traits may lower
diabetes risk.
A range of factors can raise
the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Some of these factors — such
as diet, physical activity, and weight — can be modified. Others, including
ethnicity, genes, and age, cannot.
Some recent studies have
suggested that a person’s psychology can also influence their diabetes risk.
Depressive symptoms, for
example, correlate strongly with a higher risk of incident diabetes, and
researchers have suggested that depression be “included among risk factors
that indicate intensified screening for diabetes.”
Moreover, other studies have
suggested that “self-reported cynical hostility” may also raise the
risk of diabetes, as well as exacerbate symptoms of metabolic syndrome in
postmenopausal women.
However, fewer studies have
looked at the protective effect that some personality traits may have on
diabetes risk in this group.
A new paper, published in
Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), aims to
fill this gap in research.
Scientists have examined data
from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) to see whether positive traits such as
optimism can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in postmenopausal women. WHI is
a long-term observational study aiming to prevent a range of chronic conditions
in women.
Juhua Luo, Ph.D., from the
School of Public Health at Indiana University in Bloomington is the first
author of the new paper.

Optimism lowers diabetes risk
by 12 percent

Luo and colleagues included
data from 139,924 postmenopausal women who did not have diabetes at the
beginning of the study. Throughout 14 years of clinical follow-up, 19,240 cases
of type 2 diabetes occurred.
The scientists assessed the
women’s personality traits and divided them into quartiles.
They found that, compared with
women in the lowest quartile of optimism, those who were the most optimistic
were 12 percent less likely to develop diabetes.
Conversely, women who were the
most likely to express negative emotions had a 9 percent higher risk of
developing diabetes, and those who were in the highest quartile of hostility
were 17 percent more likely to develop the condition.
Additionally, the study found
that this correlation between hostility and diabetes risk was less strong in
obese women.
Luo and colleagues conclude,
“Low optimism and high [negativity] and hostility were associated with
increased risk of incident diabetes among postmenopausal women, independent of
major health behaviors and depressive symptoms.”
“In addition to efforts
to promote healthy behaviors, women’s personality traits should be considered
to guide clinical or programmatic intervention strategies in diabetes
Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, the
executive director of NAMS, comments, “Personality traits remain stable
across one’s lifetime; therefore, women at higher risk for diabetes who have
low optimism, high negativity, and hostility could have prevention strategies
tailored to their personality types.”
“In addition to using
personality traits to help us identify women at higher risk for developing diabetes,
more individualized education and treatment strategies also should be
used,” adds Dr. Pinkerton.
In the United States,
approximately 15 million — or 1 in 9 — women are currently living with

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.