Yogic breathing when compared to attention control reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory biomarkers in saliva: a pilot randomized controlled trial - Twal et al. (2016)

Key Points

  • Three inflammatory cytokines were significantly reduced after 20 minutes of yogic breathing

  • Mild hypercapnia (increased carbon dioxide) might explain the anti-inflammatory effect of yogic breathing

The Breathing Diabetic Summary

Let’s continue our discussion on saliva (never thought I’d say that!).  A 2015 study showed that 20 minutes of yogic breathing significantly increased nerve growth factor in saliva.  In this paper, the authors use data from the same study and examine inflammatory cytokines in the saliva of the participants.

As a brief recap, there were 20 participants: 10 were assigned to an attention control group, and the other 10 to a yogic breathing group.  The attention control group sat quietly and read an article for 20 minutes.  The yogic breathing group performed 10 minutes of Om chanting followed by 10 minutes of an alternate nostril breathing practice.  They measured levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the saliva of the participants at the 0, 5, 10, 15, and 20 minute marks.

The results revealed that 3 pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1beta, IL-8, and MCP-1) were significantly reduced in the saliva of the yogic breathing group.  These three cytokines are broadly associated with inflammation, oxidative stress, injury, and infections.

Interestingly, the authors suspect that the anti-inflammatory effect of yogic breathing is due to mild hypercapnia (that is, increased carbon dioxide).  As we know, one of the main goals of slow, light breathing is to increase carbon dioxide (learn more).  Here, they suggest that hypercapnia suppresses certain inflammatory signals, helping explain their results.

Their findings also are important because stress-related cytokines are increased in the saliva of patients with different diseases, including diabetes.

Overall, yogic breathing can reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines found in saliva. Next time you pause to breathe slowly, use the additional saliva in your mouth as a reminder that you are reducing inflammation.

Abstract from Paper

BACKGROUND: Self-report measures indicate that Yoga practices are perceived to reduce stress; however, molecular mechanisms through which YB affects stress are just beginning to be understood. While invasive sampling such as blood has been widely used to measure biological indicators such as pro-inflammatory biomarkers, the use of saliva to measure changes in various biomolecules has been increasingly recognized. As Yoga practice stimulates salivary secretion, and saliva is considered a source of biomarkers, changes in salivary cytokines before and after Yogic breathing exercise as specified in an ancient Tamil script, Thirumanthiram, were examined using a Cytokine Multiplex to compare to Attention Control (AC) group.

METHODS: Twenty healthy volunteers were randomized into two groups stratified by gender (N = 10 per YB and AC groups); The YB group performed two YB exercises, each for ten minutes, for a total of twenty minutes in a single session as directed by a trained Yoga instructor. The AC group read a text of their choice for 20 min. Saliva was collected immediately after YB training at 0, 5, 10, 15 and 20 min and analyzed by Multiplex enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).

RESULTS: The levels of interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-8, and monocyte chemotactic protein -1 (MCP-1) were significantly reduced in YB group when compared to AC group. The level of reduction of IL-8 was significant at all time points tested, whereas IL-1β showed reduction at 15 and 20 min time points (p < 0.05), and MCP-1 level was marginally different at 5-20 min. There were no significant differences between YB and AC groups in the salivary levels of IL-1RA, IL-6, IL-10, IL-17, IP-10, MIP-1b, and TNF-α.

CONCLUSIONS: These data are the first to demonstrate the feasibility of detecting salivary cytokines using multiplex assay in response to a Yoga practice. This study was registered in Clinical Trials.gov # NCT02108769.

Journal Reference:

Waleed O. Twal, Amy E. Wahlquist, and Sundaravadivel Balasubramanian (2016), Yogic breathing when compared to attention control reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory biomarkers in saliva: a pilot randomized controlled trial, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 16:294, DOI 10.1186/s12906-016-1286-7.