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Yoga Helps Breast Cancer Survivors with Fatigue and Inflammation

Update Date: Jan 29, 2014 10:11 AM EST

Based on several studies, researchers have found the many beneficial effects of exercise for cancer survivors. In a new study, a research team reported that for breast cancer survivors specifically, yoga could help relieve symptoms caused by toxic treatments, which include chemotherapy and radiation. The researchers reported that yoga was able to fight fatigue, sleeping problems and inflammation.

"Even some years out from breast cancer treatment, anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of women report substantial levels of fatigue," said study author Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University in Columbus according to HealthDay. "And it's a nasty downward spiral where increasing fatigue means less activity and less activity means increasing fatigue, so that over time less and less translates into greater frailty and decline."

For this study, Kiecolt-Glaser and researcher, Ronald Glaser examined 200 female participants between the ages of 27 and 76. The women had been cancer free within the previous three years. In order to qualify for the study, all participants had to be healthy and at least two months past their very last cancer treatment. The researchers randomly divided the women into two groups.

The first group of participants was placed in Hatha yoga, which includes gentle, flowing yoga poses. This group met up for two sessions per week that lasted 90 minute each. The other group was placed on a waiting list. The time span of the study was three months. The women also answered questions before and after the study regarding their energy levels, vitality, mental health, support system, sleeping patterns, physical activity and diet. The researchers used blood tests to measure the participants' inflammation.

The team discovered that initially after the three-months were up, the yoga group reported higher levels of vitality and improved sleep. During the follow-up, many of the people from the yoga group did not continue taking yoga. For the participants who continued with the practice, the researchers found that at the six-month mark, they reported 60 percent less fatigue. They also had a reduction in inflammation by 13 to 20 percent. The researchers found that the longer they practiced yoga, the greater their improvements were.

"This showed that modest yoga practice over a period of several months could have substantial benefits for breast cancer survivors," said Kiecolt-Glaser reported by Medical Xpress. "We also think the results could easily generalize to other groups of people who have issues with fatigue and inflammation."

"It's pretty consistent now across a number of different studies that yoga can be useful for improving symptoms like fatigue and sleep disturbances, which are extremely prevalent in breast cancer survivors and cancer survivors, in general," said Lorenzo Cohen, director of the integrative medicine program at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.

The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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