Diaphragmatic breathing reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress - Martarelli et al. (2011)

Key Points

  • Diaphragmatic breathing increased antioxidant levels in athletes after exhaustive exercise

  • Diaphragmatic breathing also decreased cortisol and increased melatonin in these athletes

  • Overall, diaphragmatic breathing reduced oxidative stress in athletes after exercise

The Breathing Diabetic Summary

Although this paper did not study diabetics, it is very relevant to us.  From Bernardi et al. (2017) and Hegde et al. (2012), we know that diabetics generally suffer from higher levels of oxidative stress.  Any intervention that reduces oxidative stress would therefore be beneficial to diabetics.

It is important to point out, however, that their test subjects were elite athletes participating in an extreme 24 h competition.  But, if diaphragmatic breathing helps reduce oxidative stress in this case, it is surely applicable to diabetics who are in a 24/7/365 extreme competition with their blood sugars.

The athletes performed diaphragmatic breathing (DB) for 1 h after their all-day biking competition.  A control group sat in a quiet room for 1 h without performing a breathing practice.

The results showed that the DB group had less reactive oxygen metabolites (less is good) and a higher biological antioxidant potential (higher is better) after performing the DB exercise.  Additionally, the DB group had lower levels of cortisol and higher levels of melatonin than the control group.  Taken together, these results indicate an overall lower level of stress and, specifically, lower level of oxidative stress in the group that performed diaphragmatic breathing.  The authors concluded that DB could help prevent negative side effects associated with elevated free radicals seen in extreme athletes.

For us diabetics competing as athletes in life, these results indicate that we can use DB to reduce the excess free radicals and oxidative stress associated with having diabetes.Let’s start breathing lightly, slowly, and diaphragmatically today so we can begin mitigating, or even reversing, the negative side effects associated with fluctuating blood sugars.

Abstract from Paper

Diaphragmatic breathing is relaxing and therapeutic, reduces stress, and is a fundamental procedure of Pranayama Yoga, Zen, transcendental meditation and other meditation practices. Analysis of oxidative stress levels in people who meditate indicated that meditation correlates with lower oxidative stress levels, lower cortisol levels and higher melatonin levels. It is known that cortisol inhibits enzymes responsible for the antioxidant activity of cells and that melatonin is a strong antioxidant; therefore, in this study, we investigated the effects of diaphragmatic breathing on exercise-induced oxidative stress and the putative role of cortisol and melatonin hormones in this stress pathway. We monitored 16 athletes during an exhaustive training session. After the exercise, athletes were divided in two equivalent groups of eight subjects. Subjects of the studied group spent 1 h relaxing performing diaphragmatic breathing and concentrating on their breath in a quiet place. The other eight subjects, representing the control group, spent the same time sitting in an equivalent quite place. Results demonstrate that relaxation induced by diaphragmatic breathing increases the antioxidant defense status in athletes after exhaustive exercise. These effects correlate with the concomitant decrease in cortisol and the increase in melatonin. The consequence is a lower level of oxidative stress, which suggests that an appropriate diaphragmatic breathing could protect athletes from long-term adverse effects of free radicals.

Journal Reference:

Daniele Martarelli, Mario Cocchioni, Stefania Scuri, and Pierluigi Pompei, (2011) Diaphragmatic breathing reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, doi:10.1093/ecam/nep169.