It’s well documented that yoga can help people with cancer manage many of the side effects of their treatment, from fatigue and inflammation to anxiety and quality of life. But can yoga actually reduce tumors?
New research on the effect of stretching on tumors is opening up new opportunities for yoga as a therapy in the treatment of cancer. Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital have completed pre-clinical trials that observed the effect of stretching on breast cancer tumors on mice. And the results are remarkable.
Sixty six mice that had been injected with breast cancer cells were divided into two groups – the stretching group and a non-stretching group. The mice in the stretching group received daily stretching for four weeks. How do you stretch a mouse? The mice grasp a small bar with their front paws, then researchers gently lift them by the tail.
The results? Tumor volume in the stretching group was 52 percent smaller than in the non-stretching group.
The mechanism that caused this effect isn’t fully understood yet. However, researchers in this study found that stretching seemed to reduce levels of PD-1, a protein that can prevent the body’s T cells (a type of immune cell) from attacking cancer cells. They also found that mice in the stretching group had higher levels of SPM’s (specialized pro-resolving mediators), molecules that help the body to naturally resolve inflammation - while inflammation is a healthy response that helps the body fight disease, unresolved inflammation can lead to malignancies.
Scientists are excited about the opportunities opened up by this research. "These results open myriad new avenues of research," one of the study’s authors, Jean J. Zhao, PhD, said, adding that these findings “could help us develop more effective therapies against breast cancer and potentially other cancer types."
For yoga therapists and cancer patients, this research suggests exciting potential for developing yoga stretching protocols to support people with cancer.
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Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.