What Does the Research Say?
A mammoth research at West Virginia University backed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine investigated 25 studies on how Yoga effects the key markers of diabetes. These studies were observed in participants who completed yoga intervention program vis-à-vis participants who only received standard care protocol without yoga. The studies showed significant improvement on one or more diabetic indices. Majority of the studies reported reductions in
- Postprandial blood glucose (PPBG)
- Fasting blood glucose (FBG)
- Fasting insulin
- Glycosylated hemoglobin or Hba1c—one of the most popular diabetic tests.
In general, the studies showed that yoga practitioners recorded significant reduction in BMI and glycemic control, increase in antioxidants like glutathione and vitamin C, and MDA (malondialdehyde), a marker for oxidative stress.
How is yoga able to help diabetes?
Yoga simply helps achieve the major goals of diabetes management including improving glycemic control or reduction of blood glucose levels, which in turn
- Reduces the risk of microvascular complications
- Reducing risk factors for cardio vascular diseases in patients of DM2
- Reducing DM-related distress
- Mitigate signs of depression
- Enhance emotional well-being and quality of life- factors that directly influence glycemic control.
Research suggests, yoga can help manage and control diabetes in fundamental ways.
Reduces Oxidative Stress
Numerous studies have established that an important benefit of a yoga intervention program is the significant reduction in oxidative stress in patients of Diabetes type 2 (DM2). Oxidative stress is the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Oxidative stress is linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, neuropathy and other microvascular complications.
Eliminates Stress on the Emotional and Physiological Level
Psychological stress can severely jeopardize DM2 treatment because this one trigger can aggravate multiple risk factors. Yoga in general helps eliminate stress from the body and mind and has a positive trickle down effect on
- Neuroendocrine functions
- Regulating cortisol levels (stress hormone that can cause blood pressure and sugar levels to rise)
- Cardiovascular response
- Switching the body’s rest mode on (parasympathetic nervous system is activated in resting period that eases heart rate and works up digestion)
- Stimulating the vagus nerve which is related to well-being.
Positively Affects the Autonomic Balance
Autonomic balance is the balance achieved between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. While the later is active during a flight or fight response situation, the former corresponds to body’s resting phase. By affecting the balance, Yoga can at once increase your present moment awareness while allowing deep rest for the body, as indicated by an eased heart rate. This balance can positively affect mood and memory; activate neurochemical systems linked to attention, wellness and positivity.
Better Metabolism and Mental Well-Being
Yoga enables you to be more physically active, improves neuroendocrine function that control hormonal secretions in the body, promotes weight loss, improves sleep, and overall fitness.
Reduce CVD or Cardiovascular Risk Factors
A gift of yoga is it makes you self-aware. This self-awareness is crucial in making healthier lifestyle choices and behavior modification. Better sleep, stress free life, improved mood directly work on reducing CVD risk factors. Studies done on heart-failure patients showed yogic breathing worked on the cardiac and respiratory function by pushing more oxygen into arteries and tissues.
Slows Cellular Aging
Research indicates, certain yogic practices can also slow down cellular aging and affect epigenetic changes. These changes in genetic pathways can favorably alter factors like inflammation, oxidative stress, metabolism, and insulin secretion among others. (Epigenetics is an emerging field of science that studies changes and regulation of gene activity.)
Improves Pancreatic Function
Certain asanas can work up a slow pancreas, stimulating beta cells to produce insulin.
Working Up the Muscles
The physical discipline of yoga works up the muscle cells that burn glucose to get energy and in the process lower blood sugar.
Regular practice of Yoga improves hormonal function and enables weight loss, an important risk factor for DM2.
Improves Dietary Habits
A calm mind is a reflective mind. What yoga achieves for you is a stable state of mind where you can slow down and become aware of habits and patterns that are self-destructive including overeating, worrying, smoking, among others. Studies have found that practice of yoga, pranayama, and Sudarshan Kriya—a rhythmic breathing exercise—were powerful enough to affect behavioral changes in dietary choices and medical discipline.