A recent study published by Ohio State University investigated the mechanisms of hatha yoga’s potential stress-reduction benefits. To do so, researchers compared adiponectin and leptin levels in yoga novices and yoga experts; a novice was defined as an individual that participated in 6-12 yoga sessions in the past year, an expert was defined as an individual that had participated in 1-2 yoga weekly yoga session for at least two years AND at least 2 weekly sessions in the past year.
Leptin is also known as the “starvation hormone”.Leptin sends a signal to our brains that fat cells have enough stored energy to engage in normal metabolic processes. Every individual has an optimal level of leptin, which is thought to be determined genetically. When leptin levels are below optimal levels, the brain receives a message to conserve energy because the body is in a state of deprivation. When this occurs, the brain sends a message to the body that it is hungry (in an attempt to get the individual to eat) so that leptin levels can be restored to an optimal level. Leptin has pro-inflammatory properties. Leptin levels are typically high in obese individuals and low in underweight, malnourished individuals. Individuals with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) typically have high leptin levels.
Adiponectin is a hormone that is produced in fat cells; it is released from adipose tissue. Adiponectin has an impact on the regulation of glucose and a role in the processing of fatty acids. Adiponectin has anti-inflammatory properties. Adiponectin levels are typically low in obese individuals, low in individuals with Binge-Eating Disorder (BED), and high in individuals with anorexia or bulimia. Individuals with MDD typically have low adiponectin levels. Adiponectin and leptin counter-regulate each other to regulate body weight; when leptin levels increase, adiponectin levels decrease, and when leptin levels decrease, adoponectin levels increase.
Fifty well-matched women between the ages of 30-65 participated in the research study; 25 were yoga novices, 25 were yoga experts. Three fasting leptin and adiponectin blood samples were taken from each woman on three separate occasions. Leptin was 36% higher in yoga novices in comparison to yoga experts, adiponectin was 28% higher in yoga experts in comparison to yoga novices. Additionally, adiponectin/leptin ratios were nearly twice as high in yoga experts in comparison to yoga novices. Among the expert group, leptin levels were lower in those experts with the most yoga experience.
There have been several studies completed that have highlighted the importance of leptin and adiponectin in the prevention of type II diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. This study raises the possibility that long-term or more intensive yoga could possibly have a positive effect on overall health through the alteration of leptin and adiponectin production. These hormones are especially of importance in the recovery process for eating disorders and obesity.
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Sources: Kiecolt-Glaser JK, et al, Adiponectin, leptin, and yoga practice, Physiol Behav (2012), doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.01.016