Cancer patients aided by yoga

From Washington, D.C., at the Experimental Biology 2007 meeting

A pilot study in breast cancer patients suggests that Iyengar yoga—stretching and relaxing aided by straps, wooden blocks, and other props—can improve patients’ feelings of well-being and even reduce the inflammation triggered by therapy.

Pamela E. Schultz from Washington State University in Spokane and her colleagues recruited 19 women who had recently completed cancer treatments. The researchers randomly assigned 10 of the volunteers to take part in 90-minute yoga sessions three times a week for 8 weeks and the rest to continue their normal routines without extra exercise. The researchers compared results of blood tests and quality-of-life questionnaires administered at the beginning and end of the trial.

Before the trial, Schultz notes, “the majority of our subjects were clinically depressed.” By the trial’s end, “depression had gone down in the yoga group [but] worsened” among the women who didn’t exercise. The yoga practitioners also reported less fatigue and less trouble with the “demands of illness” than did the other women.

A dramatic immune system change was responsible for improvements in the yoga group, Schultz suspects. By the trial’s end, these women had roughly 40 percent less of the immune system agent NF-kappa-B in their blood cells than did women who didn’t do yoga. The substance has been linked to the production of inflammation-aggravating chemicals, Schultz notes.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.