Tai Ji Quan And Diabetes

Can Tai Chi Chuan Help Those Suffering From Diabetes?

Two studies (published ahead of print) in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at the impact of Taiji on diabetes and found that those talking part had better blood sugar control. The most recent audit of all the patients on UK GP’s lists (QOF Data) found around 1.8 million people with Type 2 Diabetes and other studies suggest another 750,000 who have not yet been diagnosed. Although people do attend their doctor with symptoms of diabetes (excessive thirst or passing urine too often), in adulthood the disease progresses slowly and is often only diagnosed from a routine test (blood or urine) or when the sufferer is seeking medical advice for a complication of diabetes.
The benefits of a twelve week course were attributed to an improvement of the immune system of those with Type 2 Diabetes.
Those with this condition have a pancreas that produces enough insulin (which helps store sugar for use by the body when needed) Unfortunately, the body of those with diabetes cannot make good use of it; instead of it being used as a fuel to help the body function properly, the sugar pools in the blood stream whilst the bodies’ tissues are starved of it. For this type of diabetes the evidence suggests that the underlying cause is a malfunction of the individual’s immune system and the wrong sort of inflammation in the wrong place(s).

Both studies looked at the effects of a 12-week course and concluded that the art gave a boost the body's immune system in people suffering Type 2 Diabetes, which is linked to obesity.
 Although this does sound encouraging and two studies are definitely better than one, Diabetes is a life-long condition and 12 weeks is not a long time.  Traditionally, the benefits of Taiji are harvested over years. Many of us who learn and teach the art have noticed long term benefits in ourselves and our students, especially those who come to us with chronic conditions so it would be very interesting to see more and longer studies.

The first study, from researchers in Taiwan, compared 30 diabetics with 30 healthy people acting as controls. From their findings the authors suggested that T'ai Chi may cause a fall in blood glucose levels or improve blood glucose metabolism which sparks a drop in the inflammatory response. However, there were very few people involved in the study and it would be nice to see more published results from other parts of the world with many more subjects involved.

In a second study, the benefits of T'ai Chi with Qigong were explored.

Immediately this raises the question. Was it the Tai Chi or the Qigong that was beneficial? I suppose if both are done in class this is less important, but if we knew, we might decide to advise our Type 2 diabetic students to use a little more of their practise time to the aspect that with proved advantage for them.  

The study found "significant improvements" in four out of seven features used to monitor a diabetic patient’s condition.  These included the body mass index (a measurement of size using weight and height). Here they found an average drop of 3kg). They also checked waist circumference (a recognised way to assess over weight and obesity) and found an average reduction of almost 3cm.
The article includes a quote from a spokesman who mentioned that "In addition to the importance of moderate physical activity, the relaxation element of T'ai Chi may help to reduce stress levels, preventing the release of adrenalin which can lead to insulin resistance and high blood glucose levels."