May 21, 2010

Cancer Survivors Can Benefit From Yoga

A new study suggests that cancer survivors might want to take a shot at yoga to help them sleep better and give them more energy.

Dr. Douglas Blayney, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology told Reuters Health that "physicians and oncologists are often uncomfortable advising patients who want to use therapies that are complementary to standard cancer therapy."

"Here we have a studied intervention, one that has been subjected to clinical trials and, lo and behold, it seems to be beneficial," added Blayney, who was not involved in the new research.

Researchers in the new study randomly assigned more than 400 cancer survivors to one of two groups. Most of the patients had been treated with chemotherapy for breast cancer.

The first group was offered gentle Hatha yoga and restorative yoga twice a week for a month. The second group was only monitored, following standard practices.

The yoga group was able to cut down on sleeping pills and slept better. Based on a commonly used sleep scale, the yoga group saw a 22 percent improvement in sleep quality. The results were nearly twice the improvement as those who did not use yoga.

Yoga cut fatigue by almost half and led to a slight increase in quality of life.

Karen Mustian, of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, who led the study, said this was good news for cancer patients. "We really don't have any good remedies for fatigue for cancer survivors," she told reporters.

Often when patients use drugs to help them sleep, they are running the risk of side effects, and often times, the medications do not provide long-lasting relief. That led Mustian's team to look for better alternatives.

It isn't quite clear why yoga provides such relaxing effects. But, "it may be promoting social bonding," Mustian said, adding that initial studies have suggested it may also lower stress hormones.

Mustian recommends that cancer survivors who are looking for help from yoga, find Yoga Alliance-certified instructors, especially those who have experience with people who have suffered or do suffer illnesses. She cautioned that results may not apply to all forms of yoga.

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