Tai Chi Improves Diabetes Control

According to two small studies published in the British Journal of
Sports Medicine in April 2008, Tai Chi exercises can improve blood
glucose levels and improve the control of type 2 diabetes and immune
system response.

Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that combines diaphragmatic breathing
and relaxation with soft, gentle movements. It is considered moderate
exercise, which has previously been shown to improve immune system
response, in contrast to strenuous physical activity, which depresses
it. Previous studies have shown that it improves respiratory and
cardiovascular function, while improving flexibility and relieving

Type 2 diabetes is a form of diabetes that usually sets in later in
life. It is associated with chronic inflammation cause by increase
glucose levels in the blood, known as hyperglycemia. When there is
excess blood sugar, it can combine with hemogloben, the oxygen
transporter in the red blood cell, it can become glycated hemogloben.
This can be used to indicate the levels of excess sugars.

In the immune system, helper T cells prompt stimulus of other immune
system cells, altering the immune response. They respond to specific
antigens, producing interleukins and other important signaling
chemicals. As a result, they are essential for the cell mediated immune
response .

In a first study, the investigators sought to analyze the impact of a
12 week Tai Chi Chuan exercise program on helper T cell
activity in 30 patients with type 2 diabetes, and contrast this with 30
healthy people of the same age.

After 12 weeks in the exercise program, the levels of glycated
hemoglobin levels fell significantly, from 7.59% to 7.16% in diabetic
patients, a significant difference. Interleukin-12, which boosts the
immune response, increased in level; interleukin-4, which lessens the
immune response, declined. In conjunction, T cell activity also
significantly increased.

According to these responses, it is possible that Tai Chi can prompt a
declination in blood glucose levels, perhaps by improving blood glucose
metabolism, prompting a decrease in the inflammatory response. In an
alternative explanation also suggested by the authors, the exercise may
boost levels of fitness along with a feeling of well being — this in
turn may boost the health of the immune system.

A second study in the same issue, investigators focused on adults with
metabolic syndrome. This is a group of symptoms including hypertension
and high blood glucose which are associated with increased risk of
cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

A 12 week program of Tai Chi and Qigong was administered to 13
patients with metabolic syndrome for up to 1.5 hours up to 3 times a
week, while being encouraged to perform the exercises outside of the

At the end of 12 weeks, they had lost an average of 3 kg in weight and
had dropped waist size by almost 3 cm. Additionally, the blood
pressures of the subjects fell significantly more than exercise alone
can account for, according to the authors. Insulin resistance also
fell, indicating a decreased predisposition for type 2 diabetes.
Participants additionally claimed to sleep better, have more energy,
feel less pain, and have fewer cravings for food while participating in
the program.

Notably, three patients no longer met the criteria for metabolic
syndrome after this test.

Regular Tai Chi Chuan exercise improves T cell helper function
patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus with an increase in T-bet
transcription factor and IL-12 production

S-H Yeh, H Chuang, L-W Lin, C-Y Hsiao, P-W Wang, R-T Liu, K D Yang
Online First Br J Sports Med 2008
doi 10.1136/bjsm.2007.043562
Click Here For Abstract

Preliminary study of the effect of Tai Chi and Qigong medical
on indicators of metabolic syndrome and glycaemic control in adults
with raised blood glucose levels

X Liu, Y D Miller, N W Burton, W J Brown
Online First Br J Sports Med 2008;
doi 10.1136/bjsm.2007.043562
Click Here For Abstract

Written by Anna Sophia McKenney

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