Yoga and mindfulness can lower diabetics’ blood-sugar as effectively as drugs, major review finds

Trendy mindfulness meditation and yoga are as effective as diabetes drugs at lowering blood sugar levels, research suggests (file image)

Trendy mindfulness meditation and yoga are as effective as diabetes drugs in lowering blood sugar levels, research suggests.

Researchers at the University of Southern California reviewed data from dozens of randomized controlled trials conducted worldwide over the past 30 years.

The studies included people with type 2 diabetes who also used mind-body wellness techniques along with their medication.

These range from meditation, yoga and breathing techniques, as well as qigong, a type of slow-moving martial arts similar to tai chi.

Researchers then compared the health outcomes of this group with people who relied solely on medication to lower their blood sugar over three months.

They found meditative practices as a whole increased anxiety levels by 0.8 percent — but yoga was even more effective at 1 percent.

This compares with the most popular type of diabetes drug metformin, taken by around 14 million Americans and 850,000 Britons.

Trendy mindfulness meditation and yoga are as effective as diabetes drugs at lowering blood sugar levels, research suggests (file image)

Dr. Fatimata Sanogo of USC’s Department of Population and Public Health Sciences and lead author of the study said: ‘The most surprising finding was the magnitude of the benefit these practices provide.’

‘We expected there to be a benefit but never expected it to be this big,’ she added.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease, characterized by the body’s inability to properly use insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas.

What is meditation?

Think of it as fitness for your mind.

Meditation calms the body, thus improving blood pressure, stress levels and improving mood.

The purpose of practicing mind-body activities is to use your thoughts to positively influence your body’s physical responses to the outside world.

The practices are part of an overarching wellness trend that has been heralded by celebrities and tech giants for years.

These activities include…


The process of focusing the breath and focusing on a particular thought, object or activity to promote a stable emotional state.

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of one’s surroundings.

A common technique is to focus silently on each of the senses.

Pilates and yoga

They involve breathwork and coordinated, concentrated movement.

Both low impact exercises, they improve strength, flexibility and posture.

In yoga, you assume positions and hold them, or flow into another position.

Pilates sees people assuming positions and then working their core muscles by moving their arms or legs.

Qigong, tai chi

Martial arts that promotes physical fitness and mental discipline.

Qigong and tai chi are traditional self-healing exercises that originated in ancient China.

They have coordinated movements focused on body posture, deep breathing and mental focus.

Qigong can involve movement or simply seated or standing mediation.

Tai chi, on the other hand, involves complex and choreographed movements that match the breath.

While some people can manage their blood sugar with diet and exercise, about 37 million Americans rely on insulin treatments.

Mindfulness activities, including yoga and meditation, are known to help manage their blood sugar levels — 66 percent of Americans with type 2 diabetes do them — but scientists were unable to quantify the benefits until recently.

A team of researchers at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine reported that mind-body activities lowered hemoglobin A1c, a measure of the average blood glucose level for the past 3 months – by 0.84 percent, on average.

Their analysis was published in the Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine.

The scientists analyzed 28 published clinical trials that tested various practices, including yoga, qigong, meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Qigong, a coordinated posture, movement and meditation practice with roots in ancient China, was associated with a 0.66 percent drop in A1c.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction practices, including meditation, contributed to a 0.48 percent reduction.

Yoga was the most studied mind-body practice and had the greatest benefit for type 2 diabetics, reducing hemoglobin A1c by about 1 percent.

That reduction, the authors note, is comparable to the 1 percent reduction in A1c caused by the common diabetes drug metformin.

People who practiced yoga several times a week saw the steepest reduction in their A1c.

The analysis suggests that in combination with prescription medication, mindfulness activities can double the effectiveness of the medication.

Dr Richard Watanabe, a professor of population and public health sciences and physiology and neurosciences at the Keck School of Medicine, said: ‘What is important about this study is that the effect is very strong and that it is above the standard of care. .’

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with healthy lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a good diet, exercising, avoiding smoking and losing excess weight.

About 96 million Americans are prediabetic, meaning their blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.

People with prediabetes are vulnerable to type 2 diabetes, as well as heart disease and stroke.

Participating in mind-body activities can be helpful for those at high risk for developing diabetes.

Dr Sanogo said: ‘This could be an important tool for many people because type 2 diabetes is a major chronic health problem and we are not doing a good enough job of controlling it.’

“Although this study does not address it as a preventive measure, it suggests that it may help people who are pre-diabetic to reduce their risk of future type 2 diabetes.”


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