Yoga is an ancient mind-body practice that is increasingly recognized to have health benefits in a variety of clinical and non-clinical conditions. This systematic review summarizes the findings of randomized controlled trials examining the effects of yoga on immune system functioning which is imperative to justify its application in the clinic. Fifteen RCTs were eligible for the review. Even though the existing evidence is not entirely consistent, a general pattern emerged suggesting that yoga can downregulate pro-inflammatory markers. In particular, the qualitative evaluation of RCTs revealed decreases in IL-1beta, as well as indications for reductions in IL-6 and TNF-alpha. These results imply that yoga may be implemented as a complementary intervention for populations at risk or already suffering from diseases with an inflammatory component. Beyond this, yoga practice may exert further beneficial effects by enhancing cell-mediated and mucosal immunity. It is hypothesized that longer time spans of yoga practice are required to achieve consistent effects especially on circulating inflammatory markers. Overall, this field of investigation is still young, hence the current body of evidence is small and for most immune parameters, more research is required to draw distinct conclusions.
Keywords: Immune; Inflammation; Mind–body-therapy; Randomized controlled trials; Systematic review; Yoga.