Yoga Improves Markers of Metabolic Syndrome and Heart Disease

According to a recent review of scientific studies published over three decades, yoga improves several markers of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a precursor to numerous chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and stroke, and it affects an estimated one out of four people in the U.S.

In the review, Dr. Kim Innes along with other researchers at the Center for the Study of Complementary and Alternative Therapies at the University of Virginia Health Systems, reviewed studies on the effects of yoga on heart disease and metabolic syndrome published between 1970 and 2004.  While some studies had limitations in the way they were conducted, the overall results suggested that yoga as therapy can positively affect the progression of both cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome affects over 50 million Americans, and is generally considered one of the precursors of heart disease, stroke, and Type II diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is also implicated in other chronic diseases. Innes and her fellow researchers were the first to do a systematic review of all yoga research published between 1970 and 2004, which focused on the effects of yoga on the various components of metabolic syndrome, including body weight, insulin resistance, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and other markers of cardiovascular health.  The review included a total of 70 studies. Here are some of the highlights of the findings.

Yoga Counteracts Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is perhaps the most dangerous component of metabolic syndrome; it is a condition in which the body’s cells no longer are able to efficiently take up the glucose needed for energy and metabolism. Insulin resistance is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Several studies reviewed indicated that using yoga as therapy combated insulin resistance by improving fasting glucose (with improvements ranging from a 5.4% to a 33.4% decrease in fasting glucose levels), postprandial glucose levels (blood sugar levels after meals), and glycohemoglobin levels (a measure of the long-term control of diabetes mellitus).

Yoga Reduces Bad Cholesterol (LDL)

Yoga also worked as a natural cure for high cholesterol levels, lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels. One study found an average decrease in total cholesterol of over 25%.

Yoga Facilitates Weight Loss

Yoga also functioned as a natural weightloss therapy: Study participants in studies ranging from one month to a year showed reductions in body weight from 1.5% and 13.6%. 

Yoga Lowers Blood Pressure Naturally 

One of the findings was that yoga therapy functioned as a natural remedy to lower high blood pressure. Over 75% of the studies included in the review found significantly lowered blood pressure in study participants practicing yoga. Even short term studies lasting as little as one month found that yoga functioned as a means to lower blood pressure naturally.

Yoga Reduces Stress and Depression

Chronic stress and depression exacerbates several markers of metabolic syndrome; they are also increasingly recognized as risk factors for heart disease.  The studies included in the review indicated that yoga helped reduce chronic stress. Other studies showed that yoga reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, and decreases anger and tension.

According to U of Virginia’s Research News, based on her review of yoga studies, Innes considers yoga a promising therapy for preventing and managing cardiovascular disease and related chronic conditions. 

“It really does have a lot of potential—and people can do it themselves,” Innes said in an interview with Research News.  “Unlike prescription drugs that may target only one symptom of disease, yoga is a holistic therapy that has shown promise in enhancing not only physical health but also overall sense of well-being. We are exploring alternative ways of not just being active but of altering neuroendocrine pathways.”

Reference: Kim E. Innes & Heather K. Vincent: The Influence of Yoga-Based Programs on Risk Profiles in Adults with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review.

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