Can yoga cure diseases? The jury is still out, say experts
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Can yoga cure diseases? The jury is still out, say experts

Claims that yoga can cure diseases like diabetes and thyroid are not backed by robust scientific evidence.

health Updated: Jun 21, 2017 11:17 IST
Yoga,International Yoga Day,Narendra Modi
Claims that yoga can cure diseases like diabetes and thyroid are not backed by robust scientific evidence.((Ajay Aggarwal/HT Photo))

When the Patanjali group, founded and run by Baba Ramdev, issued an ad in leading English daily citing the scientific benefits of Yoga saying that diseases like diabetes, thyroid, asthma and even cancer “can not only just be controlled but even be cured” by Yoga there wasn’t enough actual science backing the claim.

Addressing reporters on the eve of International Yoga Day, director of AIIMS, Randeep Guleria, unpacked the message: Yoga is good.

“To say Yoga karo is not good enough,” Dr Guleria explained. Yoga is now increasingly recognised as a way to prevent and manage diseases not cure diseases, he said.

“Today Baba Ramdev has taught India how to do yoga, but Prime Minister Modi has spread the message of doing yoga across the world,” Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan, who also handles the environment ministry portfolio, said when he launched an app “Celebrating Yoga,” a platform to keep track of yoga events happening across the world.

The message spread by Modi and the likes of Baba Ramdev has to be refined, according to experts.

The science and technology ministry is supporting research on the benefits of yoga through the Science and Technology of Yoga and Meditation (SATYAM) programme launched in 2015. The initiative supported 26 projects in 2016-17 at institutes across India including AIIMS.

As the focus has shifted from communicable to non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cancers, the recognition of the role of Yoga is the management of chronic conditions has also grown. Lifestyle and physical activity play a role in the control of many of these diseases and that’s where Yoga can be helpful.

A group in AIIMs is doing research on how Yoga can help to manage migraines. The study which has 144 participants was launched three months ago is likely to be completed by next year. Only when the benefits are proven through the study will doctors start prescribing it to all patients.

Dr Rohit Bhatia who is heading the study asserted that even for the research the participants would continue to receive their regular medication and Yoga was only seen as an addition to their regime. Studying if yoga alone can help to manage the diseases is the next step.

In fact, doctors point out that relying on yoga alone can have an opposite effect than what is intended. We get several cases of people who stop their regular medication and switch to Yoga, and end up back in the hospital in a worse condition, Dr Guleria said.

What regular practice of yoga can do is help patients reach a stage where their requirement of medicines decreases. Yoga regimes also need to be customised to deal with particular diseases. “We need to develop protocols that will help in the management of specific diseases,” Dr Guleria said.

Research on the benefits of yoga started as far back as 1957 in India when doctors tested claims made by Yogis like the fact that they could stop their hearts. These turned out to be untrue There has not been as much acceptance because a robust and systematic body of medical evidence to support claims has not existed. “The challenge is to show proper evidence based on scientific data” Dr Guleria said, “and to explain the mechanism through which Yoga helps.”

Beneficial Effects of Pranayama (control of breath)

For Hypertension:

Slow breathing is beneficial for managing hypertension because it reduces heart rate and blood pressure

Anulom-Vilom (alternate nostril breathing) can reduce blood pressure

For Brain Functions:

It is useful for improving memory, concentration and problem solving

Alleviating anxiety and for depression

(Source: AIIMS release)

First Published: Jun 21, 2017 11:17 IST