Trendy mindfulness meditation and yoga are as effective as diabetes drugs at lowering blood-sugar levels, research suggests.
Researchers at the University of Southern California reviewed data from dozens of randomized controlled trials held worldwide for the past 30 years.
The studies included people with type 2 diabetes who also used mind-body wellness techniques along with their medication.
These ranged 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 to people who relied solely on drugs to lower their blood-sugar over three months.
They found meditative practices as a whole increased decreased levels by 0.8 per cent — but yoga was even more effective at 1 per cent.
This is comparable to 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 from 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 anticipated it would be this large,’ 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, thus reducing blood pressure, stress levels and improving all over mood.
The objective 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 an overarching wellness trend that has been touted by celebrities and tech giants for years.
These activities include….
The process of focusing one’s breath and focus on a particular thought, object or activity to foster 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 breathwork and coordinated, concentrated movement.
Both low-impact exercises, they improve strength, flexibility and posture.
In yoga, you adopt positions and hold them, or flow into a different position.
Pilates sees people adopting positions and then working their core muscles by moving their arms or legs.
Qigong, tai chi
Martial arts which promotes physical fitness as well as mental discipline.
Qigong and tai chi are traditional self-healing exercises originating from ancient China.
They feature coordinated movements focused on body posture, deep breathing and mental focus.
Qigong can include movement or simply sitting or standing mediation.
Tai chi, on the other hand, involves complex and choreographed movements that match one’s breath.
While some people can manage their blood sugar with diet and exercise, roughly 37 million Americans rely on insulin treatments.
Mindfulness activities including yoga and meditation have been known to help manage their blood sugar levels – 66 per cent of Americans with type 2 diabetes do them – but scientists have been 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 per cent, on average.
Their analysis was published in the Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine.
The scientists analyzed 28 published clinical trials that have tested various practices including yoga, qigong, meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction.
Qigong, a coordinated body-posture, movement, and meditation practice with roots in ancient China, was associated with a 0.66 per cent drop in A1c.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction practices including meditation contributed to a 0.48 per cent decrease.
Yoga was the most studied mind-body practice and had the greatest benefit to type 2 diabetics, lowering hemoglobin A1c by about 1 per cent.
That reduction, the authors note, is comparable to the 1 per cent reduction in A1c caused by the common diabetes drug metformin.
People who kept up with yoga several times a week saw the steepest reduction in their A1c.
The analysis suggests that when combined with prescription medication, mindfulness activities can double the effectiveness of the drugs.
Dr Richard Watanabe, a professor of population and public health sciences and physiology and neuroscience at the Keck School of Medicine, said: ‘What is important about this study is that the effect is very strong and that it is on top of the standard of care.’
Type 2 diabetes can be prevented using 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 high enough yet 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 those 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 a good enough job at controlling it.’
‘Although this study does not address it as a preventive measure, it does suggest it could help people who are pre-diabetic reduce their risk for future type 2 diabetes.’