The study involved 108 patients, age 30 or older, with type 2 diabetes who went through a five-session group diabetes education program with or without stress management training. The stress management program included education on the health consequences of stress, instruction in the use of cognitive and behavioral skills to recognize and reduce physiological stress levels (such as deep breathing and recognition of major stressors in life) and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), which included consecutively tensing and relaxing muscle groups in the body.
The participants' stress levels and hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) levels were measured at regular intervals for a one-year period to evaluate the effects of the treatment. HbA1c is the substance of red blood cells that carries oxygen to the cells and sometimes joins with glucose and what is measured to determine if a person has type 2 diabetes.
By the end of one year, 32 percent of the stress management participants had HbA1c levels that were lower by one percent or more. By contrast, only 12 percent of the control participants (those receiving no stress management training) had levels that were reduced by that much. Although the change was only modest, even changes as small as a half percent have been associated with significant reduction in microvascular complications that can accompany out-of-control diabetes, according to study lead author Richard S. Surwit, Ph.D., of the Duke University Medical Center.