New research suggests positive personality traits may help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes among women. Risk factors for diabetes have traditionally included family history, race/ethnicity, obesity and physical inactivity.

Emerging evidence supports the fact that depression and cynicism also are associated with an increased risk of diabetes. In addition, high levels of hostility have been associated with high fasting glucose levels, insulin resistance, and prevalent diabetes.

Few studies, however, have investigated the association of potentially protective personality characteristics with diabetes risk. The new study, based on data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) survey, examined whether personality traits, including optimism, negativity, and hostility, were associated with the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in postmenopausal women.

The study also explored whether the association could be mediated by behavioral pathways, such as diet, physical activity, smoking, or high alcohol consumption.

The research is timely as diabetes is a serious public health concern with more than 30 million Americans, or 9.4 percent of the U.S. population currently diagnosed with the disease. The prevalence of diabetes increases with age, with a 25.2 percent of people 65 and older diagnosed with DM. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases in adults.

The study, which appears online today in the journal Menopause, followed 139,924 postmenopausal women from the WHI who were without diabetes at baseline. During 14 years of follow-up, 19,240 cases of type 2 diabetes were identified.

Researchers compared women in the lowest quartile of optimism (least optimistic) to women in the highest quartile (most optimistic). They discovered the more optimistic women had a 12 percent lower risk of incident diabetes.

Investigators also compared women in the lowest quartile for negative emotional expressiveness or hostility, with women in the highest quartile and discovered more hostile women had a higher risk of diabetes. The association of hostility with the risk of diabetes was stronger in women who were not obese compared with women who were.

As a result of these outcomes, the study concluded that low optimism, high negativity, and hostility were associated with increased risk of incident diabetes in postmenopausal women, independent of major health behaviors and depressive symptoms.

“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,” said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director.

“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.”

Source: The North America Menopause Society (NAMS)