Biological evidence that yoga reduces inflammation

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in February has shown that yoga significantly reduces inflammation in blood tests. The study was led by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at Ohio State University, and her research partner and husband Ronald Glaser, Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics.


Numerous studies have documented the extensive benefits of yoga however this study stands out as the largest study of yoga using biological measures to assess results.


200 breast cancer survivors who had never practiced yoga before took part. The sample was divided into two groups with the first group receiving two 90 minute yoga classes each week for twelve weeks. The first group was also given yoga DVDs and encouraged to practice at home. The second group did not make any changes to their lifestyle and continued not to practice yoga.


When the participants were surveyed, the group that had practiced yoga reported less fatigue and higher levels of vitality three months after their cancer treatment had ended. This was unsurprising with significant qualitative research showing that practicing yoga helps people to relax and feel happier.


The laboratory tests provided biological proof that inflammation had decreased in the group who practiced yoga. The blood tests measured cytokines – proteins in the blood that are markers for inflammation. Blood tests before and after the study showed that, after three months of yoga practice, all three markers for inflammation were lower by 10 to 15 percent.


Inflammation is the body’s way of reacting to injury or irritation and is linked to diseases such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes. Inflammation often causes cancer survivors to experience fatigue for a long time following treatment.


When commenting on the results Professor Kiecolt-Glaser explained that; “Poor sleep fuels fatigue, and fatigue fuels inflammation.” Cancer treatment often leaves patients with high levels of stress and fatigue, and an inability to sleep well. Yoga has repeatedly been shown to reduce stress levels and help people to sleep better – this could explain the reduction of inflammation shown by the laboratory studies.

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