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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It's Not A Stretch - Yoga May Help Cancer Patients

It's been around for more than 5,000 years,* and still, yoga is one of the fastest growing fitness programs in the country.* Those who do it will tell you yoga can make you stronger and more flexible. Could it be doing more than that? Some believe yoga might even bolster the immune system in women who are battling breast cancer. To find out if that's a stretch, scientists are now weighing in.

Even though she's been doing yoga for 20 years and teaching for nine, Linda Oshins says she got into it almost accidentally. Doctors removed a breast because of cancer and Linda originally went to yoga class so she could get back into the swimming pool.

"I went to regain mobility in my arm so that I could swim and realized that yoga was helping me through the fear and stress," says Oshins.

Suddenly, Linda says she was not only feeling better, she believed she was getting better. The yoga was relieving stress and exhaustion, which are common complaints of women coping with cancer.

"The consequences of treatment or just having the cancer itself, the emotional stress of it all can affect health," says Charles Shapiro, MD, at Ohio State University's James Cancer Hospital.

Can yoga really make that big of a difference? Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of Ohio State University Medical Center wants to find out. She and her colleagues are enlisting some 250 women with breast cancer to take yoga classes to measure their impact. Even if those women report feeling better, scientists want to take that a step further, by taking evidence to the lab.

"We're going to be looking at blood - before, after, and then three months after that. We want to see what yoga actually does in terms of altering the immune response and affecting fatigue as well," says Kiecolt-Glaser.

By measuring stress hormones in the blood, researchers will see what kind of scientific impact yoga can have on physical health. In the meantime, Linda will keep teaching her class - certain of the role yoga already plays in her emotional health.

Women in the study will go through two 90-minute yoga classes every week and will continue doing yoga at home after their classes are done. Scientists will test them throughout to see how their bodies are reacting. The study is being funded by the National Cancer Institute.