A knowledge of diabetes has been around for decades, and over the years different treatments have emerged that help control blood sugar levels. Tablets, injections, diabetic foods etc. are all used in the treatment of this condition.
One treatment that has stood the test of time is yoga. Being an ancient science, it is deeply embedded in our culture. It’s numerous health benefits are well recognised, and a common question asked is ‘does yoga cure diabetes?’
Fair question to ask, but before we jump to conclusions, lets take a look at the scientific evidence.
How yoga can help control diabetes
The basic underlying treatment concepts in diabetes include a strict diet, exercise and weight loss.
Studies looking at the effect of yoga on body composition found that regular yoga can reduce skin fold thickness while maintaining good muscle mass and lean body weight. What this means is the yoga can help you lose fat tissue under the skin, while maintaining muscle strength and size.
The exercise component of yoga is one reason why yoga can treat diabetes. People performing the different asanas burn a good amount of calories, which reduces weight.
Another reason is the discipline and life-style change that accompanies taking up yoga. People who perform yoga are often more aware of what they should be doing with their lives, and the achievement of inner peace and reduced stress levels can have a tremendous positive effect on the blood sugar levels.
The exact scientific mechanism through which yoga can control diabetes is not very clear. Some believe that the stretches can stimulate the pancreas to rejuvenate and form new cells that are more active in releasing insulin. This insulin release allows for better breakdown of sugars in the diet along with better utilization of glucose by the cells and tissues (Sahay, 1988).
A more complicated explanation is the relaxation experienced through yoga can bring about changes in the way the brain regulates the pancreatic function. It is also believed that the relaxed muscles that have a better blood supply after yoga can increase the number of insulin receptors on the cells. This increased number allows for better uptake of glucose by the muscles, which in turn reduces blood sugar levels (Balaji, 2011).
Seasoned yoga performers have lower levels of Lectin, a compound that promotes inflammation. Inflammation is the root cause of atherosclerosis in diabetes, and by reducing its levels, heart disease can be reduced.
Effects of yoga in diabetes
1. Yoga can reduce blood sugar levels
In a pilot study looking at the levels of blood sugar in patients with diabetes, yoga was found to reduce the sugars within the first month, with this reduction being sustained during a 6 month follow up (Popli, 2014).
In a study looking at elderly patients over the age of 66 years, regular yoga helped achieve better blood sugar control, and this effect was maintained at 7 years during follow up.
Yoga can also reduce the levels of HbA1c %.
2. Yoga can reduce blood cholesterol levels
Yoga has been found to reduce total cholesterol and low density cholesterol (LDL, bad cholesterol) levels in patients with diabetes. In addition, triglyceride levels seem to be reduced as well. This is believed to happen due to release of certain enzymes that improve cholesterol profile.
Of course, cholesterol and blood sugar profiles can only change if the individual follows a strict diet plan as well.
3. Yoga can improve mental well being
Those who perform yoga have better mental well being, and are more at peace. This can help them manage their sugars a lot better and keep them focused on their goal.
4. Yoga reduces body weight
Yoga can effectively alter body composition, and numerous studies have shown this. High body fat levels are troublesome in patients with diabetes, and reducing fat levels can help achieve better blood sugar control.
5. Yoga helps control blood pressure
High blood pressure often accompanies diabetes, and yoga can reduce blood pressure levels up to the extent of 20%!
6. Yoga can reduce stress
Stress is a common reason for elevated blood sugar levels and poor compliance to medication. By reducing stress, yoga can control diabetes effectively.
What are the yoga asanas to treat diabetes?
Diabetes can be treated through a number of different asanas.
In a study looking at the effect of Pranayama and a few other yoga-asanas on fasting blood sugar and post prandial blood sugar levels, a significant reduction in the levels of these parameters was noticed in those who underwent a 3 month program (Balaji, 2011).
The best asanas
From the available research studies, the best asanas for diabetes treatment include
- Dhanurasana – This is the most effective (Madhavi, 1985).
It appears that Yogamudra and Shalabasana worsen diabetes.
According the Art of Living website, the asanas recommended for diabetes management include –
- Mandukasan (the version with fists in stomach region)
- Supta Vajrasan
- Viprit karni – Sarvangasan – Halasan – Sarvangasan
The list is long, and can be found here.
In an article in the Times of India, Ardha Matsyendrasana (half-twist pose) combined with Dhanurasana (bow pose), Vakrasana (twisted pose), Matsyendrasana (half-spinal twist) and Halasana (plough pose) were the best yoga poses to keep diabetes under control.
We feel it is best to purchase books that will guide you accurately as to how to perform these asanas. We have listed a couple at the bottom of this page for you. Alternatively, join a yoga school or watch videos on YouTube that will show you how they are done.
Here is our very own Mrs Shilpa Shetty, a proud advocate of yoga, showing how to perform the Dhanurasana.
Yoga for prediabetes
In those who have elevated blood sugar levels but have not been diagnosed as ‘diabetic’ yet, regular yoga can be a good thing.
Studies have shown that Indians who have an elevated fasting blood sugar level experienced greater weight loss and reduction in waist circumference after undergoing an 8 week yoga intervention program. Surprisingly, and interestingly, this reduction was seen in comparison to walking!(Jyotsna, 2014)
Yoga has numerous health benefits, and the effective management of diabetes is just one of them. If you are diabetic and are looking to take up yoga, make sure you do so today.
Useful Reads and Videos
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- Balaji, P. A., Smitha R. Varne, and Syed Sadat Ali. “Effects of yoga-pranayama practices on metabolic parameters and anthropometry in type 2 diabetes.” Parameters 1 (2011): T2.#
Jyotsna, Viveka P. “Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes mellitus: Evidence for effect of yoga.” Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism 18.6 (2014): 745.
Madhavi S, Raju PS, Reddy MV, Sahay BK et al. Effect of yogic exercises on lean body mass. J Assoc Physicians India 1985;33:465-66.
Popli, Urvi, Christian P. Subbe, and Kumar Sunil. “Research Letter-The Role of Yoga as a Lifestyle Modification in Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus: Results of a Pilot Study.” Alternative therapies in health and medicine 20.6 (2014): 24-26.
Sahay BK and Murthy KJR, Long term follow up studies on effect of yoga in diabetes, Diab Res Clin Pract, 5(suppl.1)(1988)S655