Yoga for Osteoporosis Study 2009
This study attempts to prove that properly chosen yoga poses can reverse osteoporosis without having negative effects on the joints.
Conventional medical wisdom puts people in an impossible position: exercise with impact, jogging, for example, is needed to stimulate the cells that build bone, but unfortunately, such exercise fairly reliably brings about joint destruction. No-impact exercise is harmless to the joints, but unfortunately, leaves the bones to slowly weaken even to the point of breaking.
When it comes to bones, it is literally both ends against the middle. At the same time, it is universally acknowledged that not exercising at all tightens joints and ligaments, weakens muscles and bones alike, and is the worst of both worlds.
As the population of the world grows older, these questions are critical for the continued activity and health of an increasing number of people. Present estimates are that 200,000,000 suffer from osteoporosis or osteopenia.
Evidence in the animal literature confirms that unconventional tugs of the sinews and ligaments can not only arrest, but reverse osteoporosis. The pilot study detailed below corroborates these findings. The transcriptional coactivator PGC1-alpha is liberated from muscles in exercises such as yoga, and suppresses a broad array of inflammatory responses, likely including arthritis.1 There are also physiological reasons to believe that yoga improves the intrajoint circulation of synovial fluid, slowing the “wear and tear” that may stand at the origins of osteoarthritis.
The proposed study measures osteoporosis. Through the accepted means, radiographic bone density measurement, dual energy X-ray absorptionometry otherwise known as DEXA scans. We measure progression in osteoarthritis with standard hip and lumbar spine X-rays. Each subject has thyroid functions, standard electrolyte, mineral and liver/kidney function tests, and an assay for vitamin D before learning the 12 yoga poses that comprise the program. Bone scans and X-rays, performed at study onset and at the end of year 2, are read by radiologists that have no idea which patients are receiving yoga, and which are not. The study participants will receive a newsletter about developments and research in osteoporosis. A DVD of the poses will be made available to them. There is an on-line message board for communication between the participants and also with the physicians and yoga teachers involved in the study. People may post messages in English and Spanish. After each year a statistical analysis will be done, and a scientific paper will be written after year 3.
We have already completed a pilot study, with a paper published by the peer-reviewed journal Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation (download .pdf 817kb). In it we compare twelve people who completed the two years of yoga (the intervention group) with seven people that did not do yoga, the controls. These people had the same average age (66 years), very nearly the same amount of bone loss when the study started, and all had normal laboratory values.
Intervention Group vs. Control Group T-Scale Change in 2 years
As you can see, the patients that did yoga for two years now have stronger bones than those that did not. Statistically, this result was significant at the 0.01 level: it would occur by chance less than one time in a hundred.
Sometimes we have had to adapt the yoga poses for people that are unable to use the classical position. The DVD has three versions of each pose, and your teacher will very likely be able to help you with that.
There were no injuries in the three years of the study. Nevertheless, in this larger study we have selected some different postures, particularly in forward bending, in order to increase the level of safety.
If you would like to ask questions or comment on what we have presented here, please contact us.
1 Handschin C, Spiegelman BM. “The role of exercise and PGC1alpha in inflammation and chronic disease.” Nature. 2008 Jul 24;454(7203):463-9.