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Yoga practitioners are less likely to get inflammatory diseases, finds study

Say yes to practicing yoga every day! A recent study by a group of Bangalore researchers has revealed that regular yoga practitioners are at a lesser risk of developing inflammatory diseases leading to cardiovascular disorders, tumorigenesis (cancer) and Alzheimer’s disease. The study was carried out by researchers from the M S Ramaiah Medical College and the Indian Institute of Science.

Inflammation is body’s response to an injury, and involves secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines (cell-signalling proteins) in the blood to combat the injury. The study found that regular exercise in the form of yoga can help optimise the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines: Tumour Necrosis Factor alpha (TNF-) and Interleukin-6 (IL-6).

The results of the research indicate that yoga, which enhances mind-body relaxation achieved through a combination of proper breathing, meditation and physical exercises, can also help keep TNF-alpha and IL-6 at optimal levels. This is necessary for regulating the body’s immune response to an injury or infection. However, an imbalance in levels of TNF-alpha and IL-6 can be harmful as excess amounts during chronic inflammation can lead to harmful effects like pro-tumour effects. Hence pro-inflammatory cytokines can act as a double edged sword if not kept in check!

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, the researchers examined the effect of an exercise challenge on pro-inflammatory cytokine (TNF-alpha and IL-6) levels of a group of yoga and non-yoga practitioners. The results showed that yoga practitioners fared better than non-yoga practitioners when it comes to pro-inflammatory cytokine levels after a moderate-to-strenuous exercise trial. Base levels of TNF-alpha and IL-6 were lower in yoga practitioners (practicing yoga daily for one hour since the last five years) compared to non-yoga practitioners. Although there was an increase in TNF-alpha and Il-6 levels in both yoga and non-yoga groups, the increase was significant in the non-yoga group.

“The research highlights that the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines proportionately decrease with the increase in the duration of yoga practice, especially when the yoga practitioner is exposed to severe physical stress in form of strenuous exercise. This implies that the pro-inflammatory cytokines do not shoot up as much if one practices yoga regularly.” says Dr. Ambarish Vijayaraghava, Associate Professor, Department of Physiology, M. S. Ramaiah Medical College and lead author of the paper.

Further, lipid profiles of both groups revealed that cholesterol, tryglyceride and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) were higher in non-yoga group than yoga group while HDL (high density lipoprotein) level, also known as ‘good cholesterol’, was higher in the yoga group. “Not only that, this study illustrates that the increase in the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines is less and less with longer and longer duration of yoga, when exposed to physical stress, so yoga acts as a molecular level buffer for physical stress. Yoga probably helps in acting as a cushion to absorb mental stress too, as yoga has both body and mind components”, says Dr. Vijayaraghava.


About the authors:

Dr. Ambarish Vijayaraghava is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology, M. S. Ramaiah Medical College, Bangalore, India.Dr Venkatesh Doreswamy is a Professor the Department of Physiology, M. S. Ramaiah Medical College. Dr Omakar Subbaramajois Narasipur is a Chief Research Scientist at the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India. He is also associated with the Yoga and Biomech Lab, IISc.

Radha Kunnavil is a Lecturer Cum Statistician in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, M. S. Ramaiah Medical College..

Nandagudi Srinivasamurthy is a Professor Cum Statistician and Research Co-Ordinator in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, M. S. Ramaiah Medical College.

Contact information:

Dr. Ambarish Vijayaraghava. E-mail :