Mind over diabetes Nov 14, 2018
dr. Maaike VAN DEN HOUTE
There are over 400 million adults on this planet who suffer from diabetes, a chronic disease that causes over 1.5 million deaths a year. Today on ‘World Diabetes Day’, we ask ourselves the question: What do we actually know about diabetes? What is its impact on our society? And what are scientists researching this condition up to?
IT’S ALL ABOUT INSULIN
“Your body hears everything your mind says.” – Naomi Judd.
Diabetes can be defined as a chronic, metabolic disease that is characterized by elevated levels of blood sugar, also known as glucose. Normally, a hormone called insulin regulates these levels. It acts as a key that allows glucose to cross over from the blood into the liver, fat and skeletal muscle cells. However, in the case of diabetes, our pancreas does not produce enough insulin or our body cannot effectively use insulin. “If untreated, this can over time lead to serious damage to the human body resulting in blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation”, dr. Maaike Van Den Houte explains. “Around 8 % of the adults in our society suffer from this condition and the numbers are still on the rise.”
Diabetes can be controlled using a rigorous treatment regime, which for a large part lies in the hands of the patient. For example, most people who suffer from diabetes type 1, and also some who suffer from type 2, have to measure their own blood sugar value multiple times a day and inject themselves with insulin if required. In addition to this, they have to watch what they eat and try to avoid a sedentary lifestyle.
The evolution of technology has made the measurement of blood sugar much more convenient, using devices such as a flash sensor. This is a sensor that only needs to be replaced once every two weeks and allows for a simple readout. “However, we observe that this does not guarantee that the patient follows the therapy routine. Therefore, we are trying to map how compliant diabetes patients are to their therapy, how this evolves over times, what influences it and which personal and contextual factors predict it.”
A FASCINATION FOR THE HUMAN MIND
“I have always been fascinated by human behavior, resulting in me studying psychology. During my first two bachelor years, I got intrigued by the complexity of the human psyche and the vast amount of unanswered questions that remain within the field. During my Ph.D., I got more and more convinced that the border between physical and psychological is arbitrary. Therefore, I decided to research how our thoughts, behavior, and feelings influence our physical functioning. As a result, one of my research topics focuses on the impact of patient behavior on therapy compliance in diabetes.”
During this study, patients will be asked to fill in several questionnaires over a period of 13 months. The results will then be combined with clinical data obtained during the medical visitations and the data from the flash sensor system. “The questionnaires focus on topics such as demographic data, use of medication, lifestyle, the perception of the disease, user-friendliness of the sensor and personal topics. This is all done in close collaboration with the Hospital East-Limburg and the Hospital Maas & Kempen.”
TRANSLATING KNOWLEDGE INTO TREATMENT
“The importance of this type of research lies in the fact that neglecting the therapy results in an increased risk of developing serious complications. With our research we can tackle this problem through practical solutions like additional education, creating a more user-friendly system, etc. It also allows us to identify those patients that have a high risk factor of not being compliant with the therapy.”
“In the future, I would like to continue this research as well investigate how good people are in perceiving signals originating from their body. However, I would also like to focus on how we can translate this knowledge into treatment components. In addition to this, I want to generate more awareness among physicians, patients and the rest of our society on how our thought, behavior, and feelings influence our body. As you see, there is still a lot to do.”
The project is supported by the Rehabilitation Research Center (REVAL) of UHasselt. The project is executed in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Katleen Bogaerts (REVAL, UHasselt), Prof. Dr. Dominique Hansen (REVAL, UHasselt), Dr. Yves Kockaerts (Hospital East-Limburg), Dr. Philippe Marcq (Hospital Maas & Kempen) and Dorien Jans (Hospital Maas & Kempen).