All those “Negative Nellies” out there may have more to worry about than frown lines. Researchers digging into data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) recently identified an association between personality traits (such as negativity, pessimism and hostility) in postmenopausal women and a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The good news is, a sunnier disposition, including optimism, may help protect against diabetes. Here’s what the researchers found—and what’s being recommended…

Study details: Nearly 140,000 postmenopausal women who did not have diabetes completed a self-administered questionnaire that assessed their personality traits and their health behaviors, such as diet, exercise, smoking and drinking alcohol. Over the next 14 years, 19,240 (about 14%) of the women developed diabetes.

  • Those who scored highest for hostility (highest quartile) had a 17% increased risk of developing diabetes compared with those in the lowest quartile for hostility.
  • Those who scored highest for negativity had a 9% increased risk of developing the disease compared with those with the lowest negativity scores (lowest quartile).

For unknown reasons, the link between hostility and diabetes risk was not as pronounced in women who were obese compared with women who were not—though obesity remains a major risk factor for the disease.

Now the positive side: The study participants with positive personality traits characterized by high optimism, low negativity and low hostility had a 12% lower risk of developing diabetes compared with those who were least optimistic.

“Personality traits remain stable across one’s lifetime,” explains JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, executive director of The North American Menopause Society. For that reason, Dr. Pinkerton says, this new finding could help doctors identify women who may be at a higher risk for diabetes so that they can tailor prevention and treatment strategies to each woman’s personality.

Takeaway: If you’re a postmenopausal woman—especially if you have risk factors for diabetes, such as being overweight or obese…low physical activity…and/or a family history of the disease—discuss with your doctor whether your personality may be putting you at even greater risk. Knowing where you stand is the first step to protecting your health!