Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on insulin and cytokine levels in a randomized controlled pilot study on breast cancer survivors

Clin Breast Cancer. 2011 Jun;11(3):161-70. doi: 10.1016/j.clbc.2011.03.013. Epub 2011 Apr 20.


Background: Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) is an integrative medicine mind-body practice with a physical activity component that has positive effects on aerobic capacity, muscular strength, and quality of life among cancer survivors, similar to the effects elicited by other modes of moderate-intensity exercise. Inflammatory cytokines and insulin and insulin-related signaling molecules may contribute to weight gain and affect cancer recurrence rates and survival; exercise can curb cancer- and treatment-related weight gain, increase survival, and reduce levels of insulin and inflammatory cytokines. Despite knowing the beneficial effects of conventional exercise interventions on these mediators, little is known about the physiologic effects of TCC on these pathways in breast cancer survivors.

Methods: We assessed the effects of a 12-week, moderately intense, TCC intervention (n = 9) compared with a non-physical activity control (n = 10) consisting of psychosocial support therapy (PST), on levels of insulin, insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1, insulin growth factor-like binding protein (IGFBP)-1, IGFBP-3, and cytokines interleukin (IL)-6, IL-2, and interferon (IFN)-γ in breast cancer survivors.

Results: Levels of insulin are significantly different in TCC and PST groups; levels remained stable in the TCC group but increased in the PST control group (P = .099). Bivariate analysis revealed novel and significant correlations (all r > 0.45, all P ≤ .05) of both decreased fat mass and increased fat-free mass with increased IL-6 and decreased IL-2 levels.

Conclusions: This pilot study shows that TCC may be associated with maintenance of insulin levels and changes in cytokine levels that may be important for maintenance of lean body mass in breast cancer survivors.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Cytokines / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Survivors
  • Tai Ji*


  • Cytokines
  • Insulin