October 14, 2022 – A new study shows that people with type 2 diabetes achieve better blood sugar control if they engage in mind-body practices such as yoga.
While previous research has been done specifically for yoga, this study was recently published online in Journal of integrative and complementary medicine He also considered the benefits of other mind-body practices for these patients, including qi gong and meditation.
the study “The first to show that there is a very static effect [on hemoglobin A1c, a marker of diabetes] No matter which method you use,” says one of the researchers, Richard Watanabe, PhD.
“So I think one of the important messages… is that any kind of mind-body intervention seems to be beneficial, which makes this tool much more flexible than telling the patient that they should [just] says Watanabe, MD, professor of population sciences and public health at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
There are other options available, “And if you are a busy person and going to yoga is not possible, you can learn about meditation and do it anywhere. So again, it is [is] …a flexible tool to help their patients control their blood sugar,” he says.
“The most surprising discovery was the magnitude of the benefit these practices provide,” lead author Fatimata Sanogo of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, says in a statement. “We expected there would be a benefit but we never expected it would be that big.”
But how do mind and body practices reduce A1c? It’s not entirely clear, Watanabe says, noting that more research is needed to find out.
“But I think everyone’s hypothesis is that these methods reduce stress, so the idea is that they reduce stress hormones, and since these hormones have an effect on glucose metabolism, reducing them using these methods reduces A1c and blood sugar levels,” he explains.
Alternatively, mind-body practices may improve insulin sensitivity. “It essentially allows insulin to be more efficient at increasing glucose uptake by insulin-sensitive tissues,” Watanabe says.
Should doctors prescribe any of the mind-body practices studied in the study? Perhaps, Watanabe says.
“Our results suggest that the effect you’ll see with mind-body intervention will be on top of whatever level of care patients receive, so it certainly can’t hurt,” he says. He also points out that for people with diabetes, having to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels and monitor what they eat is very stressful.
“This only contributes to the difficulty in controlling blood sugar,” he says. “So I think clinicians need to evaluate their patients and help them choose something that fits their lifestyle and personality, so it’s up to the clinician to work with patients and help them find something that works for them.”
The researchers conducted what is known as a meta-analysis, identifying 28 studies, published between 1993 and 2022, looking at the use of mindfulness practices in patients with type 2 diabetes.
All studies excluded patients who needed insulin to control their diabetes as well as those with medical complications such as heart disease or kidney complications. The types of mind-body practices analyzed included meditation, breathing techniques, yoga, and an ancient Chinese practice known as qi gong, a type of slow-moving martial art similar to tai chi.
Using hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) as a test that tells patients their average blood sugar levels over the past three months, the results showed that the overall drop in average A1c was 0.84 percentage points.
A decrease in A1c level was observed in all types of mind and body practices. In patients who practiced mindfulness-based stress reduction, A1c was reduced by an average of 0.48 percentage points. This practice involves focusing on one’s breath and on a particular thought, object, or activity to generate a stable emotional state and be fully present and aware of its surroundings.
Practicing qi gong lowered A1c even more by 0.66 percentage points.
But the drop in A1c was largest among those who practiced yoga, at 1.0 percentage point — roughly the same degree of drop in A1c seen with metformin, a drug widely used to treat type 2 diabetes worldwide.
In fact, for each additional day of yoga practice each week, average A1c differed by -0.22 percentage points over the study period.
The fasting blood sugar also improved significantly with mind and body exercises.
Overall, the average decrease in A1c and fasting blood sugar “was clinically significant, suggesting that mind-body practices may be an effective, integrated non-drug intervention for type 2 diabetes,” the study authors said.