Yoga, Mindfulness Can Help Manage Your Blood Sugar

By Stephanie Watson @YourCareE
February 24, 2023
Yoga, Mindfulness Can Help Manage Your Blood Sugar

Yoga can reduce your stress and help you manage your daily life, but this mind-body practice could also be an important add-on to type 2 diabetes treatment.

Could a few minutes of deep breathing or dipping into a downward dog help people with type 2 diabetes get a better handle on their blood sugar levels? A review of studies suggests that yoga and other mind-body practices may help you manage diabetes, and could even work as well as medication in some cases.


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How do mind-body practices lower blood sugar?

Despite the number of treatments available, only about half of people with type 2 diabetes meet their target blood sugar levels. Consistent high blood sugar increases your risk for nerve, eye, heart, and kidney damage, along with several other complications.

The review, published in the Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine, included 28 clinical trials that compared the effects of mind-body practices plus medication to medication alone on blood sugar control.

The authors noted significant reductions in hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c), a marker of blood sugar control, in people who practiced yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction, meditation, or Qi gong (a form of traditional Chinese medicine that incorporates movement, breathing, and meditation).

Of all the practices investigated, yoga led to the most significant reduction in HbA1c, at 1 percent. What's notable about this finding is that metformin (Glucophage, among other brand names), the most commonly prescribed type 2 diabetes drug, reduces A1c by an average of 1.1 percent.

This isn’t the first study to find better blood sugar control among practitioners of mind-body medicine. The additional evidence may come as good news to the estimated 1 in 5 Americans who already use these practices, while incentivizing those who are thinking about trying them.

How do mind-body practices lower blood sugar?

Researchers don't know exactly why. One theory centers on stress. Researchers have known that meditation, yoga, and other mind-body practices reduce stress. Stress hormones may cause blood sugar to spike, worsening diabetes control, because they stimulate the release of inflammatory substances that make cells less sensitive to insulin.

Evidence suggests that yoga helps insulin-producing beta cells in your pancreas respond better to fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Yoga and Qi gong are also types of exercise, a recommended part of diabetes management.

It's hard to know how long you'd need to practice to see improvements in your blood sugar. Yoga studies have used different session lengths, from 10 minutes a day to three 75-minute sessions a week. You might have to play around with the timing to see how your blood sugar responds.

Should you try mindfulness?

These practices "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," said Fatima Sanogo, a PhD student in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine at USC and lead author of the study.

Mind-body techniques could be an "effective, complementary," non-drug intervention for type 2 diabetes, according to the study authors. The word "complementary" is important. These practices shouldn't take the place of medications or other treatments your doctor has prescribed to lower your blood sugar.

What you can do

Meditation is safe to try, but check with your doctor before starting any new exercise. Yoga comes in many styles, some of which are intense and fast-paced. You may need to avoid certain poses for safety reasons. Some balancing poses could lead to a fall. Inverted poses that make blood rush to your head might increase your risk for retinal detachment or bleeding.

Also avoid any quick transitions from one pose to another. They could cause a sudden drop in blood pressure. Move in and out of each pose slowly, pausing to take a breath or two in between.

Learn yoga or Qi gong from an experienced teacher before trying them on your own. If you have any sudden blood sugar drops, dizziness, or pain during your practice, stop and call your doctor for advice.


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February 24, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O'Dell, RN