Yoga May Offer Relief for Those with Diabetes

An estimated 18 million Americans suffer from diabetes, according to the American Diabetic Association. Diabetes results when the pancreas produces insufficient insulin to transport glucose from food to the body’s cells for energy. The excess glucose remains in the bloodstream. Untreated diabetes may cause heart disease, nervous system damage and even blindness.


The practice of yoga has been used by millions for thousands of years to balance physical and mental wellbeing. Its practitioners believe that the discipline rewards them with long-term health and personal fulfillment.

Yoga involves a range of breathing techniques, physical exercises and meditation. Research indicates that, while yoga won’t cure diabetes, it may reduce factors contributing to the disease and alleviate symptoms. How?

When healthy people experience stress, their bodies release the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine and glucagon. As these hormones flood a person’s system, blood sugar levels tend to rise significantly and the otherwise normal insulin production levels become less effective. The resulting boost in energy is nature’s way of contributing to the fight or flight response.

People with diabetes, however, already have lowered — or nonexistent — insulin production. For them, stress can mean permanently high blood sugar levels, or chronic hyperglycemia. Research has shown that one of yoga’s greatest benefits is its ability to increase a person’s insulin-binding receptors. These receptors allow the body’s cells to extract glucose from the blood, lowering blood sugar levels to a healthier level.

A study by researchers at the University of the West Indies, with findings published in the American Journal of Biochemistry and Biotechnology, followed 154 non-diabetic and 77 diabetic participants for six months. The participants belonged to a control group, a group practicing yoga and a group practicing traditional exercise.

After six months, the yoga and exercise groups reported increases in insulin-binding receptor counts and decreases in their fasting blood sugar levels.

A second study, from Japan’s Shimane Institute of Health Science, tested the brainwave patterns and blood cortisol levels of seven yoga instructors. These researchers found that the yogis had low levels of the stress hormone cortisol and high levels of alpha brain waves. These long, smooth wave patterns produce a state of relaxed, heightened awareness.

Do you need to practice yoga for a long time and/or become a yoga instructor to enjoy these results? Not necessarily, according to researchers at New Delhi’s Integral Health Clinic. Their 2005 study examined 98 participants between the ages of 20 and 74 years. They engaged in a nine-day yoga program combining meditation, yoga postures and relaxation exercises with educational films, lectures and counseling about yoga in daily life.

At the program’s conclusion, the participants had “significantly” lower fasting blood sugar, triglycerides and “bad” cholesterol. Their “good” cholesterol levels increased significantly. People with the highest blood sugar and cholesterol levels had the most marked improvement.

As yoga’s popularity in Western culture continues to rise, study results like these are beginning to gain the attention and respect of doctors, nutrition and health experts from all around and many of them are open to the integration of yoga with other treatments. With proper instruction from a yoga instructor and oversight from your doctor, you too may be able to control and minimize your diabetic symptoms, naturally.

David Macaslin works with a leading wellness media company making educational health videos and yoga videos accessible to everyone.

Image credit: 1.

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    One Response to “Yoga May Offer Relief for Those with Diabetes”

    1. Vern Says:

      Hi there! I could not find a contact form on your site, so feel free to delete this comment after reading it. I am wondering if you are interested in a guest blog post about “Can I avoid diabetes?”. Please email me asap if you are, and I won’t send it to anyone else. Thanks!

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