Yoga found to be effective at reducing fatigue and sleep disturbances in women diagnosed with breast cancer

Getting cancer can be one of the most challenging times in a person’s life. However, it’s a reality that some people face – such as when women face breast cancer. In the U.S., at least one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime, making it one of the most frequently diagnosed diseases in the country. There have been advances in how this type of cancer is treated, increasing survivability rates in recent years.

Still, undergoing cancer treatment will drastically alter a person’s way of life, as long-term psychological distress, chronic pain, fatigue and impaired quality of life start to take their toll. In this regard, researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany have suggested that yoga could be used as a complementary therapy to address breast cancer-related impairments and improve a patient’s overall quality of life.

Yoga is more than just “downward dog” – it improves a person’s well-being

The practice of yoga has been around for a long time. Even in its earliest records, which date back to 2700 B.C., yoga has always focused on the harmony between the mind and body and is grounded in basic humane values. To achieve that harmony, an ethical lifestyle, spiritual practice, physical activity, breathing exercises, and meditation are utilized in a complex intervention. In most of the Western world, however, yoga has been associated with physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana). In the study, researchers noted that aside from postures – which is the focus of many practices in the U.S. and Europe – meditation and breathing techniques are also important parts of yoga.

To understand how women with breast cancer can benefit from yoga, in terms of improving their quality of life, mental health and cancer-related symptoms, researchers looked at previous studies that have been done on the subject. All in all, they scoured research databases like the Cochrane Breast Cancer Specialised Register, MEDLINE, Embase, and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP), among others, for relevant randomized control trials on the matter. For the study to be qualified, it must be a study that compared yoga interventions to either no therapy or an existing active therapy for women who were diagnosed with breast cancer. It must also have evaluated at least one patient-related primary outcome such as health-related quality of life, depression, anxiety, fatigue or sleep disturbances. (Related: Research shows yoga benefits breast cancer sufferers physically and emotionally.)

In total, 24 studies met the criteria set by the researchers for inclusion. Of the studies, 17 of those revealed that yoga improved health-related quality of life for breast cancer patients, as well as reduced fatigue and short-term sleep disturbances. The researchers also found no serious adverse events in patients who practiced yoga, as well as evidence that it may reduce depression, anxiety, and fatigue in the short term.

Based on the results gleaned from the review, researchers were able to determine that yoga could potentially be used as a supportive intervention for breast cancer patients. In particular, there is evidence pointing that it may improve health-related quality of life, as well as reduce fatigue and sleep disturbances, compared to those who did not undergo therapy. In particular, it has also demonstrated some potential in attenuating symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and fatigue in comparison with psychosocial and educational interventions.

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