Positive Emotions Reduce Inflammation from Diabetes

Patient Expert

The Grand Canyon Inspires Awe When We See It

(Photograph from the North Rim by David Mendosa)

We can manage our diabetes better when we let ourselves feel positive emotions, particularly awe. This is the conclusion of research that the American Psychological Association's professional journal Emotion will publish soon.

The new study led by Jennifer Stellar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto, links emotions and proteins in our bodies that regulate inflammation. Earlier studies had linked those proteins with the progression of diabetes.

Only the abstract of the study is online at "Positive Affect and Markers of Inflammation." But the University of California, Berkeley, where Dr. Stellar did her research, sent me a copy of the draft of her article.

Positive Emotions Are Good for Our Bodies Too

Negative emotions are reliably associated with poorer health, 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.

Amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love, and pride are all 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 proinflammatory cytokine called interleukin-6, explains UC Berkeley psychology professor 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."

Awe Is Most Important

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 seven positive emotions: amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love, and pride. Samples of gum and cheek tissue taken that same day showed that those who experienced more of these positive emotions had the lowest level of the proinflammatory cytokine called interleukin 6, which is a prime marker of inflammation.

Several earlier studies had connected elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines to the onset and progression of diabetes and 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. The full-text of that study is free online.

When we are full of awe, diabetes isn't awful.

See more of my articles about how to manage diabetes:

"Inflammation: The Root of Diabetes

"Low Carbs Cut Diabetes Inflammation