People around the globe practice yoga to enjoy its many health benefits. According to a study in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, the practice can also benefit those who have active rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
In the eight-week study, the researchers observed that intensive yoga practice significantly reduced the severity of the physical and psychological symptoms experienced by participants with active RA, a debilitating chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease.
Can yoga help individuals with rheumatoid arthritis?
The research team said that there were notable improvements in the levels of specific inflammatory biomarkers and assessments of functional status and disease activity in the volunteers. This confirms that yoga may improve the overall well-being of people with RA.
According to Dr. Rima Dada, lead investigator from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), yoga improved the condition of volunteers in the test group. This implies that practicing yoga may have an immune-regulatory role in the treatment of RA.
Dada, who is also a professor and AIIMS’ Department of Anatomy, added that an intensive yoga regimen paired with routine drug therapy resulted in molecular remission and re-established immunological tolerance in the volunteers. Yoga even reduced the severity of depression by promoting neuroplasticity among practitioners.
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity lets neurons in the brain compensate for injury and disease. It also helps adjust their activities to adapt to new situations or to changes in the environment.
Dada said that high disease activity and underlying depression are linked to increased disability, reduced quality of life, and lower rates of clinical remission and treatment response.
For the study, the researchers conducted a mind-body intervention (MBI) randomized trial on 72 individuals who where divided into active and control groups. The research team set out to determine the effects of practicing 120 minutes of yoga, five days a week for eight weeks.
The test and control groups both simultaneously took disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
The results revealed that there was a noteworthy improvement in systemic biomarkers of aging, cellular health integrity, immune-modulation, inflammation, and neuroplasticity. These improvements were also linked to the reduction in severity of depression, disease activity, and disability quotient in participants who joined intensive yoga-based MBI. (Related: Yoga can increase blood flow, aiding in repair and regeneration of tissue.)
Earlier studies also assessed the benefits of yoga as an effective intervention to assist the management of RA and functional ability, psychosocial outcomes, quality of life, and its associated clinical symptoms. However, this study was the first to examine how yoga can improve the systemic biomarkers of cellular aging, inflammation, and oxidative stress, especially in patients with RA.
Dada said that yoga can positively alter the pathobiology of autoimmunity at cellular and molecular levels by targeting mind-body communications. She added that continued study may determine possible mechanisms associated with the cumulative effect of yoga on multiple pathways at a cellular level.
RA is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects at least 1.3 million people in the U.S. Experts believe that the disease is possibly autoimmune, meaning a person’s immune system mistakes the body’s own tissues and cartilage as foreign and attacks them.
This type of autoimmune arthritis is commonly linked to depression, which can affect the quality of life of patients. Sadly, current medical therapies have a limited scope and they are unable to address the psychological component of the disease and its various side effects.
It is believed that depression may decrease a patient’s compliance and adherence to medical treatment, which can then result in worse health outcomes and increase the severity of RA. The researchers advise that improving a patient’s psychological health and lowering severity made the yoga group more compliant and enabled them to perform more daily chores without too much trouble.
The findings implied that yoga is a natural treatment option that can be combined with pharmacological treatments to address the symptoms of RA at both physical and psychosomatic levels.
The researchers hope that with yoga-based MBI, patients with rheumatoid arthritis can have access to holistic treatments that may improve their chances of remission post-treatment.