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June 21 is International Yoga Day. All of this week, we are celebrating the positive impact of yoga on mental health. All our research articles and features will bring you these scientific insights.
Practicing yoga for three months helps lessen fatigue and inflammation in breast cancer survivors according to research. The more the women in the study practiced yoga, the better their results.
Results of the research by Ohio State University showed that, on average, fatigue was 57 percent lower in women who had practiced yoga compared to the non-yoga group at six months of the trial, three months after the official yoga practice had stopped, and their inflammation was reduced by up to 20 percent.
Only beginners to yoga were recruited for the randomized, controlled clinical trial since the individuals had finished all breast cancer therapies before the study began.
For 12 weeks, participants engaged in twice-weekly small-group yoga sessions. Women in the control group were placed on a waiting list to continue receiving the same yoga sessions after the study. They were told to go about their normal lives during the study and not to practice yoga.
Yoga practice yields substantial benefits for breast cancer survivors
“This showed that modest yoga practice over a period of several months could have substantial benefits for breast cancer survivors,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study.
“We also think the results could easily generalize to other groups of people who have issues with fatigue and inflammation,” said Kiecolt-Glaser, also an investigator in Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.
Although various research has suggested that yoga has many advantages, according to Kiecolt-Glaser, this is the largest known randomized controlled experiment that takes biological measures. 200 women were enrolled in the study by the researchers.
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Yoga helps with cardiorespiratory fitness
Because the demands of therapy may be so hard on patients, the research team concentrated on breast cancer survivors.
“One of the problems they face is a real reduction in cardiorespiratory fitness. The treatment is so debilitating, and they are so tired, and the less you do physically, the less you’re able to do. It’s a downward spiral,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. “That’s one reason we think there are higher levels of inflammation in cancer survivors, meaning that an intervention that reduces inflammation could potentially be very beneficial.”
Impact of chronic inflammation
Numerous health issues, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and the frailty and functional decline that can come with aging, are associated with chronic inflammation.
All of the study participants filled out questionnaires that measured their levels of exhaustion, vigour, depressive symptoms, sleep quality, physical activity, and food intake. They also provided baseline blood samples, which the researchers used to check the levels of numerous proteins linked to inflammation.
The ages of the participants ranged from 27 to 76, and they had two to three years since their most recent surgery or radiation treatment. In order to ensure that the findings could be applied to a large community of cancer survivors, Kiecolt-Glaser and associates purposefully chose women with a range of ages, cancer stages (between 0 and 3A), and treatment modalities, she explained.
Regular and disciplined Yoga practice
Between four and twenty women participated in each yoga group, which met twice a week for 90 minutes to practice the same positions. The women were urged by the researchers to practice at home as well; participants kept track of their weekly practice time.
In comparison to the non-yoga group, the women in the yoga group had an average reduction in fatigue of 41% and an increase in vitality scores of 16% just after the trial’s active period.
Striking reduction in inflammation levels due to Yoga practice
The scientists assessed the activation of three pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that are markers of inflammation in the blood, to determine the participants’ levels of inflammation. They injected a substance that induced an immunological response to produce the protein activity. Interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-1 beta (IL-1B), and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a) are the three proteins.
All three pro-inflammatory cytokine levels were, on average, lower in the yoga group than in the non-yoga group at the three-month mark immediately following the conclusion of the yoga sessions: TNF-a by 10%, IL-6 by 11%, and IL-1B by 15%.
“We were really surprised by the data because some more recent studies on exercise have suggested that exercise interventions may not necessarily lower inflammation unless people are substantially overweight or have metabolic problems,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. “In this group, the women didn’t lose weight, but we saw really marked reductions in inflammation. So this was a particularly striking finding biologically.”
Yoga reduces fatigue and depressive symptoms
According to a secondary study, practicing yoga more frequently led to bigger changes in fatigue, vitality, and depression symptoms as well as an average 4–6% decrease in two of the three pro-inflammatory cytokines. Comparing the yoga group to the control group, the yoga group also reported considerably better sleep.
“Yoga has many parts to it — meditation, breathing, stretching, and strengthening. We think the breathing and meditation components were really important in terms of some of the changes we were seeing,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.
Three months after the intervention ended, the researchers checked back in with the participants. They found that health metrics in the yoga group had continued to improve during that time: fatigue was 57 percent lower and inflammation was between 13 and 20 percent lower than in the non-yoga group.
“We think improved sleep could be part of the mechanism of what we were seeing. When women were sleeping better, inflammation could have been lowered by that,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. “Reducing fatigue enables women to engage in other activities over time. So, yoga may have offered a variety of benefits in addition to the yoga exercises themselves.”
Studies have suggested that meditation had the strongest evidence supporting its use, and has been recommended for reducing anxiety, treating symptoms of depression, and improving quality of life
Materials provided by Ohio State University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, Jeanette M. Bennett, Rebecca Andridge, Juan Peng, Charles L. Shapiro, William B. Malarkey, Charles F. Emery, Rachel Layman, Ewa E. Mrozek, and Ronald Glaser. Yoga’s Impact on Inflammation, Mood, and Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology, January 2014
Ohio State University. “Yoga can lower fatigue, inflammation in breast cancer survivors.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140127164408.htm>.
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