Yoga for treating early stages of diabetes

Published in The Hindu on February 22, 2007

Management of type 2 diabetes in newly diagnosed patients with near normal HBA1c level need not always be through medication. Doing a few yogasanas (yogas) might have the same effect.

Alternative method

The study undertaken in ten such patients and published in the Journal of the Association of Physicians of India (JAPI) by Dr. Vijay Viswanathan, Dr. P.T. Chacko and others have shown how performing yogasanas can be considered not as an adjunct but as an alternative method to treat diabetes.Dr. Viswanathan is the Joint Director of M.V. Hospital for Diabetes in Chennai and Dr. P.T. Chacko is the Chief Medical Officer of Sanjeevanam, Chennai.

Proof of concept

“It is a preliminary study involving just ten patients,” Dr. Viswanathan noted. “It is more of a proof of concept study.” The study included two arms where one group received only Metformin drug and the other group did yogasanas. Both the groups undertook lifestyle modifications, such as diet control and exercise. The two groups were followed up for a six-month period.

The important observation of the study was the reduction in HBA1c level and weight in the yogasanas group. They were comparable to the Metformin group. The unexpected results were the improved insulin sensitivity in the yogasanas group.

Insulin resistance

HOMA index was used in this study to look at the improvement in insulin resistance in both the groups before and after the six-month study period. HOMA (Homeostasis Model Assessment) is a clinical method used widely to measure insulin resistance.

Mr. G. Velmurugan, one of the volunteers who belongs to the yogasanas group got his HbA1c level reduced from 9.3 per cent in October 2005 to 5.9 per cent this February. His weight reduced by five kilograms during the same period.Whether the drop in HBA1c level and body weight can be attributed solely to yogasanas or the combined effect of yogasnas and lifestyle modifications cannot be determined from this study.

Aim of the study

“The intent of the study was to compare the effect of yogasanas with that of a well known drug,” Dr. Viswanathan noted. “And yogasanas appear to have the same effect as Metformin.” Metformin is well known drug for improving insulin sensitivity and hence reducing HBA1c level. With both groups undertaking lifestyle modifications (diet control and exercise), the study has helped to pitch yogasanas against Metformin.

He does acknowledge that a larger study involving more volunteers is required before drawing any conclusions. “This is more of a proof of concept study,” he emphasised.