Although UCLA scientists are engaged in cutting-edge research that embraces the latest technological breakthroughs, they also have a strong interest in Chinese medical practices practiced since antiquity. Their latest forage into this area is a study evaluating the benefits of Tai Chi for breast cancer survivors. Researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center found that the training could improve the health and increase the longevity of breast cancer survivors. The study was published on November 4 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Tai Chi is a martial art that is practiced for both defense training and health benefits. Medical research has found evidence that the training is helpful for improving balance and for general psychological health, and that it is associated with general health benefits in seniors. In the new UCLA study, the researchers have found that he Chinese practice of Tai Chi can reduce inflammation in breast cancer patients who suffer from insomnia following diagnosis and treatment.
The five-year clinical trial was led by Michael Irwin, MD, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA. From April 2007 through August 2013, he and his colleagues analyzed blood samples from 90 women, aged 30 to 85 years, before and after they started the exercise routine. Dr. Irwin explained, “When people practice Tai Chi, there’s a decrease in the stress hormone system by the sympathetic nervous system.” Inflammation commonly occurs in breast cancer survivors after treatment. The research team also discovered that Tai Chi relaxes the body to a certain level, which results in reduced inflammation, commonly seen in most breast cancer survivors after treatment.
Dr. Irwin noted, “We saw that Tai Chi reversed cellular inflammation, by producing a down-regulation of the genes that lead to inflammation. Tai chi is a movement meditation, and we have found that similar anti-inflammatory effects occur when people practice other forms of meditation.” He is hopeful that the exercise will gain in popularity, particularly in low-income communities where many do not have immediate access to breast cancer treatment.
Previous studies have found that, compared to the general population, the majority of women who successfully fought breast cancer were three times more likely to suffer from insomnia for at least ten years or more after the initial diagnosis. UCLA patient and two-time breast cancer survivor Linda Tucker experienced innumerable sleepless nights until recently. She explained, “I absolutely did not sleep, my eyes would not stay asleep, my body just would not relax and I found myself awake until six in the morning.” When she learned of Dr. Tucker’s study, she was skeptical; however, out of desperation, she decided to give it a go. She said, “I said to myself, this has to be a joke, this is not going to work or do anything. But after two sessions the insomnia started going away. I just felt a sense of peacefulness.”