In a new randomized trial that could improve longevity in breast cancer survivors, UCLA researchers have discovered that the Chinese practice of Tai Chi can reduce inflammation in breast cancer patients who have insomnia following diagnosis and treatment.

Led by UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center member Dr. Michael Irwin, researchers conducted a five-year clinical trial between April 2007 to August 2013. His team analyzed blood samples from 90 participants between 30 to 85 years old, before and after they started the Tai Chi routine.

“When people practice Tai Chi, there’s a decrease in the stress hormone system by the sympathetic nervous system,” said Irwin, a professor of psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences at UCLA.

He and colleagues also discovered that Tai Chi relaxes the body to a certain point that it can reduce inflammation, commonly seen in most breast cancer survivors after treatment.

“We saw that Tai Chi reversed cellular inflammation, by producing a down-regulation of the genes that lead to inflammation,” Dr. Irwin said. “Tai Chi is a movement meditation, and we have found that similar anti-inflammatory effects occur when people practice other forms of meditation.”

Dr. Irwin hopes the exercise will gain in popularity, particularly in low-income communities where many do not have immediate access to breast cancer treatment.

Previous research indicated that the majority of women who successfully fought breast cancer were three times more likely compared to the general population to battle insomnia for at least ten years or more after the initial diagnosis.

 Two-time breast cancer survivor Linda Tucker has had many sleepless nights until recently.

“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,” Tucker said.

Desperate to find a cure for her sleeping problems, Tucker decided to participate in Dr. Irwin’s Tai Chi study at UCLA despite her initial skepticism.

“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.”

The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

One of the nation’s largest comprehensive cancer centers, the center is dedicated to promoting research and translating basic science into leading-edge clinical studies. For more information on the Jonsson Cancer Center, visit its website at