A combination of acupressure and breath awareness may help people with diabetes, according to a study originally published in the journal Health & Social Work. The study showed that a short stress-relief program including touch could lower blood sugar and improve health in diabetic patients.

Researchers at the New Mexico State University’s social work department (now the School of Social Work) observed a high incidence of diabetes among Mexican-Americans in southern New Mexico. They believed that the use of a short relaxation program could have beneficial effects on the health of those with diabetes and their families.

In cooperation with the San Miguel clinic, a study was designed that provided 15 minutes of breath work and acupressure with the goal of relieving stress for both the patient and the patient’s family. Two students in the social work department were chosen to conduct the exploratory research study. A one-group, pre-test/post-test design was used. The group size was 12.

At the start of the project, clinic staff and patients were introduced to holistic health practices, such as breathing techniques, acupressure and stress management.

Once a week for six weeks, the patients came to the clinic for a “15-minute stressout,” which had three components:

First, the patient and researcher both focused on their breath throughout the 15-minute session, in order to maintain emotional balance and empathy.

Second, the researcher applied gentle touch: applying feather strokes on the back, shoulders and arms, squeezing the arms, stretching the hands, and gripping the wrists and fingers.

Third, the researcher used acupressure on points on the patient’s hands, shoulders, back, neck and head.

There were three dependent variables measured in the study: stability of metabolic control, measured with blood sugar levels; persistence of physical symptoms, as measured by the Dartmouth COOP charts ( a question-and-answer test that assesses health and functioning); and self-perception of well-being, using post-session interviews, more COOP charts, and a “stressout survey” that measured perceived benefits of the sessions to the patients and their family and friends.

Patients experienced an overall reduction in blood sugar, anxiety, headaches, depression, and work stress and anger. They also slept better and had improved relations with their families. Patients also reported an inclination to continue with a healthier lifestyle after the project’s conclusion.

Because of limitations to the study in terms of validity and reliability (lack of a control group, and the concurrent standard medical treatment for diabetes, which may have also accounted for improvements), the authors made no claims of statistical significance. However, they said, “These limitations notwithstanding, the authors believe there is sufficient evidence to support that this alternative health practice holds promise for this population and warrants further study.” They continued, “The results of this research project support the need to integrate holistic health concepts and practices into rural area health-care systems.”

Source: Professor Gerald W. Vest, New Mexico State University of Social Work. Originally published in Health & Social Work, 1997, Vol. 22, pp. 95-100.