In The News: YOGA in to Medical Mainstream

international day of yogaAs June 21 was declared as the International Day of Yoga by the United Nations General Assembly, the whole world is geared up for celebrating the Second International Day of Yoga. The day is very special for India as Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice having its origin over 6000 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 there is a deeper way to understand the expanding science of Yoga and medicinal benefits” says Muthuswamy Balasubramanyam, Disease-Biologist & Senior Scientist at the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation, Chennai.

Yoga is top among the mind-body therapies (MBTs)!

In the recent years, Yoga has received increasing awareness and attention from the scientific community as one of the top-most forms of mind-body therapies (MBTs). Yoga offers many psychological and health functioning benefits including reductions in disease symptoms, improvements in coping, behavior regulation, quality of life, and well-being. It is now conceived that Yoga may help preventing diseases across the board because the root cause of 70 to 90 percent of all disorders is stress. Recent studies show that yoga brings about a balance in autonomous nervous system and regulates metabolic parameters (blood pressure, glucose, lipids) by stabilizing sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. It mainly acts via down regulating the hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis that trigger as a response to physical or psychological stressors, leading to a cascade of physiological, behavioral, and psychological effects. By reducing perceived stress, anxiety and physiological arousal, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. “While several endogenous stressors (oxidation, inflammation, glycation, endoplasmic reticulum [ER] stress, autophagy, proteosomal stress) could cause diabetes and its complications, psychosocial stress and depression are also closely associated with diabetes. It is at this context, yoga for diabetes prevention and control assumes importance”, says Balasubramanyam. The plausible and proven mechanism of action of yoga is through parasympathetic activation and the associated anti stress mechanism. It reduces perceived stress and HPA axis activation thereby improving overall metabolic and psychological profiles, increasing insulin sensitivity, and improving glucose tolerance and lipid metabolism. The strongest empirical evidence also suggests yoga’s capacity to regulate hormones is a factor in providing health benefit, with a decrease of cortisol and increase of serotonin and melatonin levels following regular practice.

Foreign Endorsement on the New-Biology Insights of Yoga Benefits!

Emerging literature endorse that yoga practices decrease endogenous oxidative and inflammatory signaling. A recent 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 separate studies, we have shown more depression3 and accelerated telomere shortening4 in patients with type 2 diabetes”, adds Balasubramanyam.

Yoga is an essential component of Integrative Medicine!

While research proving its health benefits - yoga has already been started entering in to the medical mainstream. Yoga is now an essential component of the so called ‘Integrated Medicine’. 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 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. ‘Is mind-body relaxation by yoga effective to combat lifestyle stress’ is a virgin territory of research with a new dimension of scientific approach,' says Balasubramanyam. Future research directions in this exciting field include: comparative evaluation of different yoga techniques, documentation of defined metabolic benefits of yoga, omics studies on Yoga (Yoganomics), controlled-randomized clinical trials for prevention of diabetes in prediabetic population, to name a few. Scientists need to collaborate with professional yoga groups to conduct state-of-the art research and in this direction we are in touch with the Yoga University, SVYAS (Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana) in Bangaluru, adds 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. Poongothai S et al. Prevalence of depression in relation to glucose intolerance in urban south Indians--the Chennai Urban Rural Epidemiology Study. Diabetes Technol Ther. 2010; 12(12):989-94
  4. Adaikalakoteswari A et al. Telomere shortening occurs in Asian Indian Type 2 diabetic patients. Diabet Med. 2005; 22(9):1151-6.

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