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

Mindfulness meditation and trendy yoga are as effective as diabetes medication in lowering blood sugar levels, research shows (file image)

Mindfulness meditation and trendy yoga are as effective as diabetes medication in lowering blood sugar levels, research shows.

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

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

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

The researchers then compared the health outcomes of this group to those of people who relied solely on medication to lower their blood sugar for three months.

They found that meditative practices as a whole increased levels of decrease by 0.8% – but yoga was even more effective at 1%.

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

Mindfulness meditation and trendy yoga are as effective as diabetes medication in lowering blood sugar levels, research shows (file image)

Mindfulness meditation and trendy yoga are as effective as diabetes medication in lowering blood sugar levels, research shows (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 benefits these practices provide.”

“We expected there to be an upside, but we 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 made by the pancreas.

What is meditation ?

Think of it as fitness for your mind.

Meditation calms the body, thereby reducing blood pressure, stress levels and improving overall mood.

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

The practices are part of a global wellness trend that’s been touted by celebrities and tech giants for years.

These activities include…


The process of focusing one’s breath and concentrating 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 silently focus on each of the senses in turn.

pilates and yoga

They involve coordinated, focused breathing and movement.

These two low-impact exercises improve strength, flexibility, and posture.

In yoga, you adopt positions and hold them, or move into a different position.

Pilates sees people assume positions and then work their abdominal muscles by moving their arms or legs.

qigong, tai chi

Martial arts that promote physical fitness as well as mental discipline.

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

They feature coordinated movements focusing on body posture, deep breathing, and mental focus.

Qigong can include movement or simply seated or standing mediation.

Tai Chi, on the other hand, involves complex, choreographed movements that correspond to the breath.

While some people can manage their blood sugar levels 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 – 66% of Americans with type 2 diabetes do them – but scientists haven’t been able to quantify the benefits until recently.

A team of researchers from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California reported that mind-body activities reduced hemoglobin A1c, a measure of average blood sugar over the past 3 months – by 0.84% 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 practice of body posture, movement and meditation that has its roots in ancient China, was linked to a 0.66% drop in A1c.

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

Yoga was the most studied mind-body practice and had the greatest benefit for type 2 diabetics, lowering hemoglobin A1c by around 1%.

This reduction, the authors note, is comparable to the 1% reduction in A1c caused by metformin, a common diabetes drug.

People who did yoga several times a week saw the greatest reduction in their A1c.

The analysis suggests that when combined with prescription medications, mindfulness activities can double the effectiveness of medications.

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

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

About 96 million Americans are prediabetic, which means 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.

Engaging in mind-body activities could be helpful for people at high risk of 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 enough work to control it.”

“Although this study does not approach it as a preventive measure, it does suggest that it may help people with pre-diabetes reduce their risk of developing future type 2 diabetes.”

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