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How Yoga Can Help You Manage Your Blood Sugar Levels, According to New Research

A new meta-analysis examining 28 studies found that mind-body practices may play a substantial role in reducing blood-sugar levels.

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You may turn to your yoga practice for a sense of calm or a burst of energy. But for those with diabetes, your practice may also help you manage your blood-sugar levels. In a new meta-analysis published in the Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine, researchers found links between mind-body practices and improvements in glucose levels among people with type 2 diabetes.

The team, led by researchers from the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, examined findings from 28 studies. In each, participants took medication in addition to completing various mindfulness-based exercises. People who practiced yoga saw a statistically significant percent decrease in hemoglobin A1c, a test which measures your average blood-sugar levels over the previous three months.

A reduction in blood-sugar levels from mind-body practices

When evaluating the studies as a whole, the researchers found a mean reduction of 0.84 percent in A1c. In studies where participants practiced mindfulness-based stress reduction, there was a 0.48 percent reduction in hemoglobin A1c. People who practiced Qigong, a practice rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine, saw a 0.66 percent decline.

However, out of all of the mind-body routines examined, yoga had the largest impact, leading to a 1.0 percent decrease. The frequency of the participants’ yoga practice also mattered in the analysis. Each additional day of yoga a week led to a steeper drop in their hemoglobin A1c levels.

The impact of these findings

These percentage changes may seem small yet, when looking at range of hemoglobin A1c results, their effectiveness is clear. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, a normal (non-diabetic) hemoglobin A1c level is below 5.7 percent. A prediabetic level is between 5.7 and 6.4 percent, while a diabetic level is above 6.5 percent. Thus, even slight reductions in these test results can make a measurable impact for a patient.

The degree to which these practices affected blood-sugar levels surprised the team of researchers. “We expected there to be a benefit, but never anticipated it would be this large,” Fatimata Sanogo, the study’s lead author, said in a press release.

While this analysis focused on those with type 2 diabetes, its results suggest that those with prediabetic blood-sugar levels could potentially see similar benefits. “This could be an important tool for many people because type 2 diabetes is a major chronic health problem and we are not doing a good enough job at controlling it,” Sanogo said. “Although this study does not address it as a preventive measure, it does suggest it could help people who are pre-diabetic reduce their risk for future type 2 diabetes.”

The authors noted these mind-body practices are not a substitute for medication, but rather a supplementary tool in helping manage blood-sugar levels.