A study has found a connection between type 2 diabetes and emotional stress, tied into the brain’s ability to control its attention and anxiety.

The study team set out to investigate how anxiety and inflammation were linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Previous studies have found that people who are likely to be tempted by distracting information, thoughts or activities (low attention control) are more likely to suffer with anxiety.

Anxiety, in turn, can lead to heightened levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) and other pro-inflammatory cytokines. IL-6 is a protein produced in the body that stimulates healing, but is also a biomarker of very high stress levels.

The study from Rice University investigated and detailed the path from anxiety to poor health. It involved 800 participants, who were put through cognitive tests that measured their attention control. It then measure their levels of blood glucose and IL-6.

It was found that patients with lower attention control were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with higher attention control, because of the pathway from high anxiety to IL-6.

“The literature shows individuals with poor inhibition are more likely to experience stressful thoughts and have a harder time breaking their attention away from them,” explained lead author Kyle Murdock.

He continued: “Plenty of research shows that when individuals are stressed or anxious or depressed, inflammation goes up. The novel part of our study was establishing the pathway from inhibition to anxiety to inflammation to diabetes.”

Murdock and his associates suggested several intervention techniques that could possibly be used to help deal with anxiety and reduce the risk of people developing type 2 diabetes, including treatment methods such as mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy.

The study appears in the online journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.