Can Yoga Reduce Blood Sugar Levels for People With Type 2 Diabetes?

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Key Takeaways

  • Mind-body practices like yoga may help lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, according to a new review of studies.
  • The reduction in A1C levels from yoga was significant, only 0.1% behind metformin.
  • Adding mind-body practices to a doctor-prescribed regimen could help some people better manage their condition.

Yoga may significantly lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, according to a new study by the University of California’s Keck School of Medicine, which was the first to rigorously quantify the impact of mind-body practices on blood sugar.

After analyzing 28 studies conducted between 1993 and 2022, the researchers found a link between practicing yoga and reduced hemoglobin A1C levels. Specifically, people who practiced yoga were able to lower A1C levels by 1%.

While this number seems small, it is comparable to the reduction provided by metformin, the most common diabetes drug, the researchers noted. Metformin typically reduces hemoglobin A1C levels by an average of 1.1%.

What Is A1C?

A1C measures average blood sugar levels over the last three months. An A1C of 6.5% or higher is indicative of diabetes, and keeping levels under 7% is considered good control. Levels of 9% and higher are considered dangerous.

In addition to yoga, researchers looked at the impact of meditation, qigong, and mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques. All led to reductions in blood sugar levels, yielding a cumulative 0.84% reduction in A1C levels.

The researchers noted that a general target for diabetes control is to get A1C levels under 7%, but only about half of people who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes meet this goal. The study results suggest that adding mindfulness practices to an existing medication regimen could help people more effectively manage their condition.

“Type 2 diabetes is a major chronic health problem and we are not doing a good enough job at controlling it,” lead study author Fatimata Sanogo, a PhD student in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at University of California’s Keck School of Medicine, said in a press release. She added that the team was taken by surprise by how successful these practices appear to be at managing blood sugar.

“We expected there to be a benefit, but never anticipated it would be this large,” Sanogo said.

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Why Does This Benefit Exist?

Marisa Gefen, MD, a Philadelphia-based physician who treats patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions at Oak Street Health, told Verywell that the reason mind-body practices may be so beneficial in this population is due to the impact that stress can have on blood sugar.

In the body, adrenal glands respond to stress by releasing a the hormone cortisol, which can raise blood sugar levels. Further, people with diabetes tend to have high baseline levels of cortisol. Mind-body practices can work against this, providing both physical and mental health benefits that can reduce cortisol levels.

“When you’re exercising, your body is able to decrease blood sugar because the muscles are utilizing it,” Gefen said. “So the physical practice of something like yoga and Tai chi will lower blood sugar that way, and the mindfulness component will decrease levels of cortisol.”

How long will the benefits last? Gefen said results seem to depend on how diligent a person is about their workout or meditative regimen.

“If you’re doing it once in a blue moon, I think it will benefit you while you’re doing it and a couple hours afterwards,” Gefen said. “If you do it consistently on a regular basis, it provides a more cumulative effect that will benefit you in the long term.”

“Diabetes Doctor” Stephanie Redmond, PharmD, CDE, BC-ADM, wrote in an email to Verywell that in addition to reducing cortisol and blood sugar levels, mindfulness practices may indirectly impact other lifestyle behaviors for the better. This can include helping a person not to overeat, or promoting healthy sleep, she said.

Medication Still Matters

Still, mind-body practices aren’t a replacement for prescription medication, insulin, proper diet, or other doctor-recommended strategies for managing type 2 diabetes.

“It is not ‘instead of’ medication,” Gefen said of practices like yoga. “It’s very important to follow your doctor’s orders and make sure that you’re taking any medication as prescribed. If you [practice yoga] consistently and you do see some blood sugar lowering, there is a possibility your doctor might lower some medication doses over time, but it’s absolutely not ‘instead of’ prescribed modalities for blood-sugar lowering.”

What This Means For You

Mind-body practices like yoga could help lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. While it can be a good idea to incorporate these practices into your diabetes management routine, yoga is not a replacement for prescribed medications or other physician-prescribed care.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sanogo F, Xu K, Cortessis VK, Weigensberg MJ, Watanabe RM. Mind- and body-based interventions improve glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Integr Complement Med. Published online September 7, 2022. doi:10.1089/jicm.2022.0586

  2. Dias JP, Joseph JJ, Kluwe B, et al. The longitudinal association of changes in diurnal cortisol features with fasting glucose: MESA. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2020;119:104698. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2020.104698

  3. Joseph JJ, Golden SH. Cortisol dysregulation: the bidirectional link between stress, depression, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2017;1391(1):20-34. doi:10.1111/nyas.13217

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.