How personality plays into a person’s risk for diabetes

Certain personality traits—namely hostility, negativity and low optimism—might elevate people’s risk of developing diabetes, according to research published Jan. 21 in the online journal Menopause.

Nearly 1 in 10 Americans have some form of diabetes, first author Juhua Luo, PhD, and co-authors wrote, and things like obesity, genetics, race and inactivity are all typical risk factors for the disease. But a growing pool of evidence suggests less tangible factors, like depression and cynicism, could also contribute to insulin resistance and high fasting glucose levels.

Luo and colleagues examined whether personality traits, including optimism, ambivalence over emotional expressiveness, negative emotional expressiveness (NEE) and hostility, were associated with a risk of developing type 2 diabetes in 139,924 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative. Patients, all aged 50 to 79, were followed for an average of 14 years.

The authors identified 19,240 cases of diabetes during follow-up. Compared to women in the lowest quartile for optimism, those in the highest quartile were 12 percent less likely to develop incident diabetes, and women in the highest quartile for NEE saw a 9 percent higher risk of diabetes. Subjects ranked the most hostile were also 17 percent more likely to develop the disease.

Luo et al. said low optimism and high NEE and hostility were linked to an increased risk of diabetes independent of major health behaviors or depressive symptoms—making them the greatest personality-linked risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

JoAnn Pinkerton, director of the North American Menopause Society, which publishes Menopause, said in a release the team’s findings point to an important opportunity for patient-centric care.

“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,” she said. “In addition to using personality traits to help us identify women at higher risk for developing diabetes, more individualized education and treatment strategies should also be used.”