In The News: YOGA Benefits Increasingly Endorsed by Biomedical Research

June 21 is the International Day of Yoga and the whole world is now geared up for celebrating the 3rd International Day of Yoga. The day is very special for India as Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice having its origin over 6,000 years ago in India and it aims to integrate the body and the mind. “In contrast to the older view of yoga as a domain of spirituality or alternative health, we’re now beginning to see a deeper understanding on its health benefits with the expanding science of Yoga” says Muthuswamy Balasubramanyam, Disease-biologist & Senior Scientist at the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation, Chennai, India. “There is a paradigm shift in our understanding of ‘ancient faith effect to modern biological effect’ of Yoga”, adds Balasubramanyam.

Yoga is a Stress Buster and Offers Mindfulness and Brain-Fitness

Extensive research directed to the better understanding of the pathogenesis of metabolic disorders including diabetes now points out that chronic cellular stress signaling (oxidation, inflammation, glycation, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, autophagy, proteosomal stress, accelerated senescence, and altered neurotrophic factors) could be the common denominators in both the disease genesis and its progression. Apart from these endogenous stressors, psychosocial stress, depression and cognitive impairment are closely associated with metabolic disorders like diabetes. It appears that yoga is a stress buster (both exogenous as well as endogenous stress) and metabolic regulator! “It is at this context, yoga for disease prevention and control assumes importance; the ‘mindfulness-based interventions’ targeting the so-called ‘brain-fitness’ are the need of the day for prevention as well as control of non-communicable diseases” says Balasubramanyam.

Yoganomics! – Emerging Modern Science of Yoga Benefits!

In the era of evidence-based medicine, lifestyle measures (including yoga) should be subjected to modern scientific evaluation and testing. Because of the complex nature of yoga practices and its multi-component therapeutic routes, there is a dire need of the application of omics techniques to endorse its molecular and metabolic benefits. Remarkably, these so-called ‘Yoganomics’ endorsements are already on the research pipeline paving way for YOGA in to medical mainstream, says Balasubramanyam. A transcriptome study1 on relaxation response practices (that includes meditation and yoga) revealed that these practices enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways.

“Yoga can lead to improved mental and cognitive functioning and lower levels of depressive symptoms accompanied by an increase in telomerase activity (and maintenance of telomere length) suggesting improvement in stress-induced cellular aging” - this is what endorsed in a study2 by none other than the Noble Laureate, Elizabeth Blackburn from California. This means, yoga can work as an anti-ageing therapy and increase lifespan as well as healthspan. “In a separate study, we have shown accelerated telomere shortening3 in patients with type 2 diabetes and we believe yoga could correct this defect” adds Balasubramanyam. Since telomeres are epigenetically regulated and their damage leads to senescence via epigenetic mechanisms, it is plausible that the positive health effects and anti-aging benefits of yoga could occur through epigenetic regulation acting to maintain and/or extend telomere length. What about other omics endorsements on YOGA? Very recent studies imply a biological effect of Yoga on DNA methylation4 (epigenetics) and metabolomics5 alterations and these observations warrant further in-depth studies.

Government of India Proactively Support Yoga Practice and Research

Yoga is one of the top complementary and integrative health approaches considered by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) of the National Institute of Health, USA. It is good to note that Government of India is proactively encouraging Research on Yoga through Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) and DST’s newly launched SATYAM (short for ‘Science and Technology of Yoga and Meditation’) initiative. The task forces of other funding agencies including Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) look for more research on Yoga with modern integrative health modeling techniques. ‘Is mind-body relaxation by yoga effective to combat lifestyle stress’ is a virgin territory of research with a new dimension of scientific approach. Scientists need to collaborate with professional yoga institutions to conduct state-of-the art research and in this direction we are already in touch with the Yoga University, S-VYASA (Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana) in Bangaluru, adds Balasubramanyam.

“Future studies that integrate metabolomics with genomic, proteomic, microbiome, epigenome and physiological parameters may facilitate a broader systems-level understanding and mechanistic insights of integrative yoga practices that could be successfully employed to promote health as well as to prevent and control non-communicable diseases”, concludes Balasubramanyam.

Balasubramanyam photo Dr.M.Balasubramanyam, PhD., MNASc., FAPASc is Dean of Research Studies & Senior Scientist at the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF) in Chennai, India. Dr. Balasubramanyam's specialization is in Disease Biology; Molecular pathogenesis of diabetes and its vascular complications including diabetic retinopathy; Vascular Biology and signaling studies on VSMC; Clinical significance and subclinical relevance of cellular and molecular alterations in metabolic diseases; Mechanisms of accelerated senescence (ageing) and telomere biology; Insulin signaling & Proteomics; Epigenetics; RNAi and miRNA, gut microbiome aspects of diabetes, Unraveling mechanisms of hyperglycemic memory, Calcium & Redox signaling, Proinflammation, Oxidative stress, ER stress, AGE pathway and biomarker(s) identification; Role of Endocrine Disruptors in diabetes; Bioprospecting herbal molecules; Non-invasive point-of-care (POC) clinical measures and medical devices.

References (click to show/hide)

  1. Bhasin MK et al. Relaxation response induces temporal transcriptome changes in energy metabolism, insulin secretion and inflammatory pathways. PLoS One. 2013, 1;8(5):e62817.
  2. Lavretsky H et al. A pilot study of yogic meditation for family dementia caregivers with depressive symptoms: effects on mental health, cognition, and telomerase activity. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2013; 28(1):57-65
  3. Adaikalakoteswari A et al. Telomere shortening occurs in Asian Indian Type 2 diabetic patients. Diabet Med. 2005; 22(9):1151-6.
  4. Harkess KN et al. Preliminary indications of the effect of a brief yoga intervention on markers of inflammation and DNA methylation in chronically stressed women. Transl Psychiatry. 2016 Nov 29;6(11):e965. doi: 10.1038/tp.2016.234.
  5. Peterson CT et al. Identification of Altered Metabolomic Profiles Following a Panchakarma-based Ayurvedic Intervention in Healthy Subjects: The Self-Directed Biological Transformation Initiative (SBTI). Sci Rep. 2016 Sep 9;6:32609. doi: 10.1038/srep32609.

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