If you have type 2 diabetes, yoga, meditation and other mindfulness practices may help you lower your blood sugar — nearly to the degree that standard medications like metformin do, a new analysis suggests.
However, that does not mean you should swap your medication for meditation. The trials in the analysis all tested body-mind practices as an addition to standard diabetes treatment — not as a replacement for it.
That caveat made, mindfulness is worth a try, according to researchers.
“We could use all the tools we can get for [managing] type 2 diabetes,” says researcher Fatimata Sanogo, a PhD student at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, in Los Angeles.
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How yoga can benefit diabetics
In the United States alone, over 37 million people have diabetes, the vast majority of whom have type 2, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Type 2 diabetes arises when the body loses its ability to properly use insulin, a hormone that shuttles sugars from food into body cells to be used for energy.
As a consequence, sugar builds up in the bloodstream, which over time can damage blood vessels and nerves. Many people with diabetes develop complications like heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage in the feet and legs, and potentially blinding eye disease.
Controlling blood sugar levels is key to cutting those risks.
But despite the various medications available, only half of the people with type 2 diabetes get their blood sugar down to recommended levels, Sanogo shares.
So Sanogo, who is also a yoga teacher, wanted to dig into the evidence on mind-body practices: Can they help people with diabetes gain better control over the condition?
For the study, she and her colleagues pulled together 28 published clinical trials that have tested various practices. The majority focused on yoga, which typically combines physical postures, breathing practices and meditation. Ten trials tested either qigong, guided imagery, meditation or mindfulness-based stress reduction — a standardized program that includes meditation and yoga and teaches people how to use mindfulness to deal with daily stressors.
Overall, the researchers found, the practices helped people with type 2 diabetes lower their A1c — a measure of