As India tackles a diabetes epidemic, a cure might lie in its past. The age-old practice of yoga is increasingly finding traction among researchers and medical practitioners for managing diabetes.
Yoga therapies involving performing postures (asanas), concentration and controlled breathing have been found to have demonstrated benefits in the management of diabetes both directly and indirectly.
Increase in insulin receptor bindings — the proteins found in membranes of liver, muscle and fat cells that play a key role in the body’s glucose regulation – and decrease in the levels of insulin in blood plasma are some of the areas that researchers have found yoga to have direct benefits.
“The practice of yoga along with some dietary restrictions helps the reversal of the condition and prevents diabetes-induced complications,” says Dr Venugopal, a researcher and yoga expert from Chennai. “Yoga acts in diabetics by targeting the insulin resistance.”
A 2008 Jamaican study involving 231 type 2 diabetics linked practising yoga to an increase in the number of insulin receptor bindings, potentially reducing insulin sensitivity in people suffering from the condition.
Regular practice of yoga can also delay the onset of diabetes in pre-diabetics and obese persons by improving the utilisation of insulin by the body’s cells, thereby promoting the uptake of glucose.
A 2007 study by researchers at Osmania Medical College in Hyderabad showed just this: hyperinsulinemia — the increased levels of insulin in blood plasma — can also be managed by regular practice of yoga, helping in delaying the onset of diabetes in pre-diabetics and obese persons.
The researchers theorised that the regular practice of yoga improved the utilisation of insulin by the body’s cells, thereby promoting the uptake of glucose. Yoga has also been shown to reduce stress, which is one of the major causative factors of diabetes.
Researchers from Japan’s Shimane Institute of Health Science found that practising yoga can reduce stress. Their study, focused on the concentration of cortisol, the main stress hormone in the human body, which was found to be in lower concentration after yoga intervention.
Other studies have found that elevated levels of cortisol in the body are linked to higher levels of blood sugar and vice versa, which could explain yoga’s effect on lowering stress and help counteract diabetes.
A study done at the Sardar Patel Medical College in Bikaner corroborated this, observing a significant improvement in the stress scores of 200 diabetics in a psychological assessment and self-evaluation scoring system after six weeks of yoga intervention.
“Practising yoga for just 30 days has changed my life. My blood sugar levels have come down and I feel better physically and mentally. My medication dosage has also been reduced by my physician,” says Jayaram BL, a Shimoga-based government employee with a history of type 2 diabetes who has been on oral antidiabetics for 10 years.
Yoga is also seen to provide indirect benefits by addressing other causative factors of diabetes such as obesity and hyperlipidaemia, by promoting mindful eating, reduction in weight and improving mental wellbeing.
Exercising is a known supplementary therapy for controlling diabetes. But unlike other exercises, yoga can also be practised by people with restricted joint movements and older folks who do not want to put undue stress on their joints.
“Yoga practice has not only reduced my blood sugar levels, but also taken care of my physical and mental well-being. Practising yoga early in the morning gives me enthusiasm to carry out day-to-day activities,” says Shimoga-based Umadevi, a 68-year-old housewife who has had diabetes for 21 years and is on anti-diabetic medications.
“Pain in my knee joints had restricted me from walking and doing other exercises. Six years ago I started practising yoga, which made me feel better with respect to my joint pain as well.”
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