Study: Intensive Yoga Improves Physical, Mental Symptoms in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Eight weeks of intensive yoga practice can significantly reduce the severity of physical and mental symptoms in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a new study published in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience.
Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic and debilitating autoimmune disease, causes inflammation in the joints and can lead to painful deformity and immobility, particularly in the fingers, wrists, ankles and feet.
Many RA patients experience depression as well, and this poses a significant healthcare burden on patients, their caregivers, healthcare systems, and society as a whole. Existing medical therapies are limited in that they fail to cure the psychological component of the disease and can result in numerous side effects.
Depression also seems to decrease patients’ adherence to medical treatment. This can worsen health outcomes even more and increase disease severity.
After participating in the yoga regimen, RA patients showed notable improvements in levels of certain inflammatory biomarkers, daily functioning and disease activity. The findings demonstrate yoga’s preventive, curative and rehabilitative potential for achieving optimal health.
“Our findings show measurable improvements for the patients in the test group, suggesting an immune-regulatory role of yoga practice in the treatment of RA,” said lead investigator, Rima Dada, MD, PhD, Professor in the Department of Anatomy at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, India.
“An intensive yoga regimen concurrent with routine drug therapy induced molecular remission and re-established immunological tolerance. In addition, it reduced the severity of depression by promoting neuroplasticity.”
Dada noted that high disease activity and underlying depression are linked to increased disability, reduced quality of life, and reduced rates of recovery and treatment response.
The study was a mind-body intervention (MBI) randomized trial to investigate the effects of practicing 120 minutes of yoga, five days a week for eight weeks on 72 RA patients. Both the test and control groups were receiving routine drug therapies (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs or DMARDs).
The findings show significant improvement in several RA disease biomarkers, including neuroplasticity, inflammation, immunity, cellular health, and aging. The yoga regimen was also tied to a reduction in depression severity, disease activity, and disability quotient in RA patients.
Improvements in mental health and disease severity also made the yoga group more compliant in their treatment and allowed them to perform more daily chores without much difficulty.
“This study offers a new option. Pharmacological treatments can be supplemented with alternative and complementary interventions like yoga to alleviate the symptoms at both physical and psychosomatic levels,” said Dada.
Source: IOS Press