Paging Patch Adams: Study Shows Humor Benefits Diabetes Control in Patients

A recent study out of the University of Northern Colorado found that humor within diabetes populations had potential medical and psychological benefits.

While the psychological, physical, and medical complications surrounding diabetes has been studied, the investigators, led by David S. Greene, PhD had approached the disease at a surprising and new angle.

Prior to the study, presented at the American Diabetes Association (ADA) 2021 Scientific Sessions this week, the relationship between diabetes control and humor was virtually unexplored.

Having lived with type 1 diabetes for the past 55 years, Greene believed that a patient’s mental and emotionally wellbeing could be integral in maintaining good diabetes control.

“Along the psychological side, there’s a good bit of research about the use of humor or the benefits of humor in reducing depression, reducing anxiety, reducing a variety of the psychological manifestations that people with diabetes tend to experience at much higher rates than the general population,” Greene said.

Using 4 disparate types of humor, as well as a sample of 284 participants, the investigators set out to examine the differences between diabetic people with an A1C ≤6.99% and those ≥7.0%.

The participant group was predominantly Caucasian (89.1%) and female (68.3%). Nearly two-thirds (65.5%) of all participants had type 1 diabetes.

The 4 types of humor observed were positive, negative, affiliative, and aggressive. Prior to being divided into the 2 A1C groups, participants were required to complete the Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ).

According to the study, participants in the A1C ≤6.99% group scored significantly higher with positive and affiliative humor (P <.01) as well as self-enhancing humor.

However, there was no significant difference between either group and their responses to negative and aggressive humor (P >.05) or self-defeating humor (P >.05).

As noted in the study, participants who practiced good diabetes control were closely associated with positive styles of humor. The investigators believed these findings provided evidence of at least an association between ADA-recommended levels of disease control and positive humor stylings.

Greene and colleagues considered humor to be the “extensive and important” in the wellbeing of participants, citing a symbiotic relationship between humor and diabetes control.

“The clinical relevance to this is if there is indeed a cause-and-effect relationship between A1C or control of diabetes and one’s sense of humor, that gives us a whole new avenue to work with people with diabetes that can be very positive,” Greene said.

Greene also believed that as the benefits of humor in treating patients with diabetes are further explored, it could add another option for diabetes educators, medical practitioners and counselors in treating patients.

Additionally, the findings noted that humor, specifically humor of a more positive variety, could aid in reducing complications in participants.

The team suggested that the free and readily available nature of humor could lead to greater success rates in future studies, and urged researchers and healthcare professionals to prioritize the emotional and mental wellbeing of their patients.

“One of the things I noticed was that there just seemed to be, anecdotally, this relationship that the more they came to accept their diabetes and the better they were able to control it, the better they were able to laugh about it and see the humor in it,” Greene said. “This is not a funny disease by any means, but they were able to at least enjoy some of the oddities that would occur.”

Greene will be continuing studies on the affect of humor on type 1 diabetes patients in the summer. When asked of the potential of humor being incorporated in the treatment of general diseases in the future, Greene was optimistic.

“My personal belief is absolutely, and the research that backs this, some if it was done with just the general population," Greene said. "The reduce in heart difficulties, the reduction of depression, the reduction of anxiety, the ability to deal with certain kinds of trauma in our lives; a lot of that research was done with people that didn’t have any specific chronic interest.”