Yoga and Cholesterol
From a reader’s comment:
“I’ll be happy to understand more about the connection between yoga and cholesterol. L&L”
Does Yoga help to control cholesterol levels? Yes!
- Yoga and meditation reduce blood levels of stress hormones, and those hormones have been shown to elevate cholesterol levels. It makes sense then, that Yoga and meditation will reduce cholesterol.
- Increasing physical exercise is one way to elevate HDL cholesterol, the “garbage truck” that goes around removing disease-causing LDL cholesterol. Depending on the style of Yoga, a regular active practice will raise HDL.
- Yoga practitioners following the ancient gurus’ recommended dietary and lifestyle components while off the mat are vegetarians. Animals are the only source of dietary cholesterol and the main source of saturated fat. Excluding meat as part of a Yoga practice will help to keep cholesterol levels in check. While avoiding eggs and dairy is not part of the yogic tradition, if cholesterol levels are high, eating these foods in moderation will help, too. Most studies looking at the cholesterol lowering effects of Yoga lifestyle programs exclude them.
A review published in 2007 looked at studies using Yoga programs to help reduce cholesterol levels. The authors found that Yoga interventionsare generally effective in reducing high cholesterol – and also in helping to reduce body weight, blood pressure andglucose levels.
- In a study of 93 people in New Delhi, one hour of dailyyoga practice was associated with significant reductions inbody weight and cholesterol levels after 4 weeks, and thosesignificant effects lasted for 14 weeks. Total cholesterol fellfrom 207 to 194 during the first 4 weeks and continued falling to 176 at 14 weeks.
- A studyof people at risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes found significant improvements (P < 0.01) in total cholesterol,triglycerides, LDL, HDL and VLDL after short-term intensiveyoga practice (3–4 h per day for 8 days). Yoga practice was more effective at reducing triglycerides among those with higher levels of cholesterol.
- In study of type 2 diabetic patients, 77 participants in a Hatha yoga exercise group were matched with a similar number of type 2 diabetic patients in a conventional PT exercise group as well as a control group. A significant reduction in total cholesterol levels occurred in both treatment arms (P < 0.0001).
More interesting are the studies that look at the yogic lifestyle as a holistic practice rather than separating out a few asanas and looking at their effects on cholesterol. Modern medicine likes to do that, reduce a thing to its parts and look only at one part – and then look only at how that part affects a part of something else.
- The Lifestyle Heart Trial included asana, pranayama, visualization, meditation, and deep relaxation in addition to a low-fat vegetarian diet, smoking cessation, group support sessions, and aerobic exercise. One year after starting the program, LDL cholesterol levels dropped 40% from an average of 144 to 87 in people who were not taking medication to lower their levels. Remarkably, patients also showed a reversal of the cholesterol plaques of their heart disease. When they came for retesting after 1 year of the program, the blockages had gotten smaller on their angiograms. Those receiving standard medical care saw their blockages get bigger over time – the standard concept of what’s “supposed” to happen as we age. And the blockages worsened even though many were taking cholesterol lowering drugs. According to Dr. Ornish, the author of the study, “99% of patients in the program were able to stop or reverse the progression of their heart disease.” There were also 2 ½ times fewer heart attacks, heart bypass surgeries, angioplasties, and hospital admissions. And according to the yogini who designed the Yoga component of the program, Yoga “seemed to be the catalyst for making everything else happen.” Ornish’s program has been so successful and well studied that it has now been declared that US Medicare will cover it.
- A study conducted at the Yoga Institute in Santacruz, a suburb of Mumbai, looked at 113 patients with angiographically proven cholesterol buildup in their arteries. They were taught Yoga techniques and provided a low-fat diet rich in fiber, vitamins and antioxidants while control patients received standard medical care. One year later the yoga group had a 23% drop in cholesterol (247 to 185) compared to a 4% decrease in controls, and they had a 26% reduction in LDL cholesterol (146 to 108) compared to a decrease of 3% in controls. They also found that patients with even a small decrease in the cholesterol buildup on their angiograms had a major reduction in symptoms.
- Two other similar studies have shown similar results.
Yoga is a holistic practice. It is an effective natural treatment for cholesterol that is at its best when it includes not only asana practice for physical activity, but also relaxation, visualization, meditation, and a low-fat vegetarian diet. Lowering cholesterol is yet another way that a yogic lifestyle promotes optimum health!
In the next blog, I’ll address a reader’s question about the true value of lowering cholesterol levels. Could there be a cholesterol myth? And is it really necessary to take a cholesterol lowering medication?
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