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Breast Cancer Fatigue and Inflammation Reduced with Yoga Practice

Yoga and Breast Cancer

The rigors of treatment can be very taxing on breast cancer survivors. The fatigue and reduction in fitness ability causes one to do much less activity, which then results in a downward spiral of worsening debilitation. Researchers with The Ohio State University have found that even a short term yoga practice may help reduce fatigue and lower chronic inflammation that can lead to other illnesses.

Two hundred women were recruited for this latest study which lasted six months. For three months, the women practiced yoga in small groups twice a week for 90 minutes per session. The women, aged 27 to 76 years, were two months to three years past the latest surgical or radiation treatment and were novices to the practice of yoga. All women completed a number of surveys to assess fatigue and energy levels, depression symptoms, sleep quality, physical activity and food consumption. Baseline blood samples were also drawn to measure several inflammation markers.

Immediately after the active phase of the trial ended, the women in the yoga group reported, on average, a 41% drop in fatigue and a 12% higher vitality score than those who were part of a control group not participating in the yoga sessions. Those who practiced more often displayed even greater benefits, plus reported significantly improved sleep.

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Three inflammation markers were also assessed, all part of a group of proteins known as pro-inflammatory cytokines: interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-1 beta (IL-1B) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a). Each of these markers were lower in the yoga group by at least 10%.

In addition to immediate relief, the yoga practice was also associated with longer-term benefits. Three months after the active phase of the study ended, fatigue was still 57% lower in women who had practiced yoga compared to those in the non-yoga group. Inflammation remained reduced by up to 20%.

"This showed that modest yoga practice over a period of several months could have substantial benefits for breast cancer survivors," said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study. "We also think the results could easily generalize to other groups of people who have issues with fatigue and inflammation.”

Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health problems, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging.

Journal Reference:
Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, et al. Yoga’s Impact on Inflammation, Mood, and Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology, January 2014