Hot off the press: Yoga and inflammation randomized trial

Yoga can make you feel good emotionally, but can it also help your immune system? Our research group recently completed a randomized controlled trial looking at the effects of a yoga intervention on inflammation. Inflammation is a hot topic in both health research and the media right now. When you get a cut or are injured, your immune system responds through the inflammatory response, sending out immune cells to heal the wounded area. You get red and swollen around a wound because there are immune cells swarming that area in order to heal it. However, when there is nothing to heal or fix, those cells and other immune proteins shouldn’t be around. For many of us however, constant chronic inflammation has become the norm in our bodies. This is due to diets high in inflammatory foods, being overweight, and high levels of stress, among other things.  Our study tested whether practicing Iyengar yoga could help reduce levels of inflammation in a sample of breast cancer survivors. Breast cancer survivors are a particularly important group to study because increased inflammation in this sample predicts cancer recurrence.  Women in our study (n=31) were randomized to either 12 weeks of Iyengar yoga or a health education control.

So, what did we find? In addition to psychological benefits of participating in yoga, women in the intervention group showed reduced activity of the pro-inflammatory transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB).  This indicates that yoga reduced the cellular signaling that causes the production of more pro-inflammatory molecules. This result is in line with our hypothesis that yoga could help reduce chronic inflammation in breast cancer survivors. This was a small study, but an exciting one for our group. Our research group and others have previously shown that chronic inflammation can contribute to long-term symptoms in cancer survivors including fatigue and depression. These results suggest that practicing yoga may be one way to help cancer survivors lead healthier, happier lives.

Our publications on this trial:

Bower JE, Greendale G, Crosswell AD, Garet D, Sternlieb B, Ganz PA, Irwin MR, Olmstead R, Arevalo J, Cole SW. (2014). Yoga reduces inflammatory signaling in fatigued breast cancer survivors: A randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 43, 20-29.

Bower JE, Garet D, Sternlieb B, Ganz PA, Irwin MR, Olmstead R, Greendale G. (2012). Yoga for persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial. Cancer, 118(15), 3677-76.