Friday, 30 June 2017

Bodleian display showcases scientific research into Bauer's botanical masterpieces

Some of the finest botanical and zoological paintings in the world are going on display at the Weston Library.

Image of Ferdinand Bauer's watercolour of a thistle
Painting by numbers, a new display running from 29 April to 9 July, brings together beautiful watercolours and field sketches by the celebrated central European botanical artist, Ferdinand Bauer (1760-1826), including incredible paintings of marine animals which have never been displayed before. Image Ferdinand Bauer's painting of an orchidThe display focuses on Bauer's ground-breaking two-year expedition to the eastern Mediterranean with John Sibthorp (1758-96), Sherardian Professor of Botany at Oxford, and the current research by the Bodleian Libraries Heritage Science team to unravel Bauer's painting by numbers system.
The numerical notes on Bauer's botanical sketches indicate that he assigned different colours different numbers, and marked these numbers on his sketches, so when he later turned these into more detailed watercolours, he would know which colour to use where. This enabled him to replicate his sketches of flora and fauna to an amazing degree of accuracy, but researchers are still trying to understand exactly how this worked in practise, and if he used a colour chart that has since been lost, or if he simply had an astonishing colour memory.
The display showcases sketches and watercolours based on Bauer and Sibthorp's journey around Greece and Turkey in 1786-88, where they studied the diversity of plants and wildlife and collected thousands of specimens of flora. Bauer made hundreds of pencil sketches of plants and animals during this trip and then came to Oxford where he spent six years (1788-1794) producing watercolours from these sketches. The results of this expedition were made famous by Sibthorp's ten-volume book Flora Graeca (1806-40)one of the rarest and most expensive botanical books in the world. This book took 54 years to produce and only 25 copies were first printed, but it has come to be an important account of the plants of the eastern Mediterranean.
Image Ferdinand Bauer's painting of AthensIn addition, visitors can see some spectacular paintings of fish, ink drawings of Athens and Constantinople, as well as examples of colour pigments and a reconstruction of a colour chart Bauer possibly used. The display also includes a detailed watercolour of the snake's head fritillary, Oxfordshire's official flower, by contemporary botanical illustrator Rosemary Wise, using eighteenth-century materials and techniques.
Researchers at the Bodleian are currently undertaking a three year research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, to identify Bauer's pigments and compare the results with his original number code in order to better understand his work processes and unravel the colour code in the Flora Graeca. The display is co-curated by Dr Stephen Harris, Druce Curator of Oxford University Herbaria, and Dr Richard Mulholland, Leverhulme Trust Research Fellow at the Bodleian who is working on the project to decode Bauer's colour system.
Image of Ferdinand Bauer's watercolour of a globe thistleHarris said: 'Bauer's paintings are among the world's finest natural history illustrations. They are astonishingly accurate, especially when you consider that in some cases he only saw the living plant or animal once and then painted it up to six years later. It's great to be able to show the materials, methods and processes Bauer used to produce these remarkable paintings and show them in the city where they were created. It's estimated that Bauer probably made one painting every 1½ days during his time in Oxford, so he was incredibly efficient as well as skilled. Today we are used to snapping images on our phones, but this display really celebrates the skills of botanical illustrators, whose works had, and continue to have, powerful influences on the world's botanists.'
Most of the original plant specimens collected by Bauer and Sibthorp are now preserved in Oxford University Herbaria, whilst Bauer's original drawings and paintings are held at the Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy, part of the Bodleian Libraries. The Oxford University Herbaria has digitized all its images of the plant specimens collected by Sibthorp and Bauer. The University of Oxford hold four sets of the Flora Graeca, two of which are held at the Bodleian Libraries. The Bodleian has made a complete digitized version of one of its sets, along with other unpublished works by Bauer.
A series of three free lunchtime lectures will accompany the display. For full details and to book tickets, please visit:
The display runs at the Weston Library from 29 April-9 July 2017. A small, accompanying digital display will show the reconstruction of Bauer's materials and techniques by Dr Richard Mulholland and Rosemary Wise, and the scientific analysis of Bayer's materials at the Bodleian. Open Daily. Admission is free.

probably no posts this weekend

I'm going on an eco-retreat and I doubt that I will sit at a computer. I should be able to post some nice pictures when I get back.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Champagne Taste on a Mauby Pocket: The Socioenvironmental History of Mauby in Barbados

Date Thesis Awarded


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Frederick H. Smith

Committee Member

Marley R. Brown

Committee Member

James E. Perry

Committee Member

Susan Kern


For four centuries, the social and spiritual meaning of Mauby, a non-alcoholic beverage made from tree bark, has influenced Barbadian national identity. Despite its importance, the social history and anthropology of this beverage have yet to be investigated. This thesis will examine Mauby in the context of Barbados and use it as a prism through which to view the defining processes that shaped this island nation, slavery and colonialism. Using Balée's Historical Ecology theory and Turner's Social Identity theories, I argue that the globalization of the production, distribution, and consumption of Mauby paralleled the expression of Barbadian national identity.

Creative Commons License


Thesis is part of Honors ETD pilot project, 2008-2013. Migrated from Dspace in 2016.

World Trade in Medicinal Plants from Spanish America, 1717–1815

World Trade in Medicinal Plants from Spanish America, 1717–1815

This article outlines the history of the commerce in medicinal plants and plant-based remedies from the Spanish American territories in the eighteenth century. It maps the routes used to transport the plants from Spanish America to Europe and, along the arteries of European commerce, colonialism and proselytism, into societies across the Americas, Asia and Africa. Inquiring into the causes of the global ‘spread’ of American remedies, it argues that medicinal plants like ipecacuanha, guaiacum, sarsaparilla, jalap root and cinchona moved with relative ease into Parisian medicine chests, Moroccan court pharmacies and Manila dispensaries alike, because of their ‘exotic’ charisma, the force of centuries-old medical habits, and the increasingly measurable effectiveness of many of these plants by the late eighteenth century. Ultimately and primarily, however, it was because the disease environments of these widely separated places, their medical systems and materia medica had long become entangled by the eighteenth century.

Anti-Alzheimer’s Compounds Found in Medicinal Plant Via New Drug Discovery Strategy

GEN News Highlights

June 21, 2017
  • Click Image To Enlarge +
    Drynaria, commonly known as basket ferns, have been traditional used as a medicinal plant. [Wikicommons]
    Traditional medicinal plants have been valued over the years for providing insight into an array of diseases. However isolating specific efficacious molecules from the milieu of compounds that constitute most plant species can be a daunting task. Now, researchers at the University of Toyama, Japan have developed a method to isolate and identify active compounds in plant medicines.
    New data—published recently in Frontiers in Pharmacology in an article entitled, “A Systematic Strategy for Discovering a Therapeutic Drug for Alzheimer’s Disease and Its Target Molecule", demonstrate that a new technique identifies several active compounds from Drynaria rhizome, a traditional plant medicine, that improve memory and reduce disease characteristics in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease.
    Typically, scientists will repeatedly screen crude plant medicines in lab experiments to see if any compounds show an effect on cells grown in vitro. If a compound shows a positive effect in cells or test tubes, it could potentially be used as a drug, and the scientists go on to test it in animals. However, this process is laborious and doesn't account for changes that can happen to drugs when they enter the body—enzymes in the blood and liver can metabolize drugs into various forms called metabolites. Additionally, some areas of the body, such as the brain, are difficult to access for many drugs, and only certain drugs or their metabolites will enter these tissues.
    "The candidate compounds identified in traditional benchtop drug screens of plant medicines are not always true active compounds because these assays ignore biometabolism and tissue distribution," explained senior study investigator Chihiro Tohda, Ph.D., associate professor of neuropharmacology at the University of Toyama. "So, we aimed to develop more efficient methods to identify authentic active compounds that take these factors into account."
    In the study, the Toyama team used mice with a genetic mutation as a model for Alzheimer's disease. This mutation gives the mice some characteristics of Alzheimer's disease, including reduced memory and a buildup of specific proteins in the brain, called amyloid and tau proteins.
    “We report a systematic strategy for evaluating the bioactive candidates in natural medicines used for Alzheimer’s disease (AD),” the authors wrote. “We found that Drynaria rhizome could enhance memory function and ameliorate AD pathologies in 5XFAD mice. Biochemical analysis led to the identification of the bioeffective metabolites that are transferred to the brain, namely, naringenin and its glucuronides. To explore the mechanism of action, we combined the drug affinity responsive target stability with immunoprecipitation-liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis, identifying the collapsin response mediator protein 2 (CRMP2) protein as a target of naringenin.”
    The scientists found that the plant extract reduced memory impairments and levels of amyloid and tau proteins in mouse brains. Moreover, the team then examined the mouse brain tissue five hours after they treated the mice with the extract. They found that three compounds from the plant had made it into the brain—naringenin and two naringenin metabolites.
    When the investigators treated the mice with pure naringenin, they noticed the same improvements in memory deficits and reductions in amyloid and tau proteins, implying that naringenin and its metabolites were likely the active compounds within the plant. They found a protein called CRMP2 that naringenin binds to in neurons, which causes them to grow, suggesting that this could be the mechanism by which naringenin can improve Alzheimer's disease symptoms.
    The researchers are optimistic that the new technique can be used to identify other treatments. "We are applying this method to discover new drugs for other diseases such as spinal cord injury, depression, and sarcopenia," Dr. Tohda noted.
    The authors concluded that their findings indicate "that biochemical analysis coupled with pharmacological methods can be used in the search for new targets for AD intervention.”

Sancha Inchi: The Next Superfood from Colombia? via @citypaperbogota

In our insatiable quest for the latest superfood, sacha inchi is a rising star. A plant native to Colombia, it produces bright green plump star-shaped fruit with four to seven points, each point containing a nutritious seed. The seeds are high in protein, antioxidants and fatty acids. These nutritious seeds can be processed into a range of healthy products: protein powder, beauty creams and cooking oil. The protein powder is great for morning shakes, and beauty creams full of age-fighting antioxidants. And the cooking oil is rich in omega-3s, a healthy fatty acid that plays an important role in healthy brain function, reducing cardiovascular disease and improving immune function.
SachaColombia is an innovative social business working to bring the health benefits of sacha inchi to the rest of the world, ensuring peace and prosperity in Colombia at the same time. How will they do this? Not only is sacha inchi a promising superfood, it is also a potential alternative to coca cultivation. Given the recent explosion of coca production, it is more important than ever to find profitable alternatives to an illegal and destructive industry.
According to SachaColombia, sacha inchi has the capacity to replace illegal crops. This is based on two elements: that sacha inchi is the right crop and that SachaColombia has the right business model to compete with the profitability of coca.
Sacha inchi matures quickly so farmers can start earning a living within the first year. Sacha inchi flowers five months after being planted, and bears seeds around the eighth month. This pace is similar to the rapid growth of a coca plant. Like coca, sacha inchi is a native plant, so it is particularly suited to its Colombian environment. In fact, the best place to cultivate sacha inchi is in exactly the same ecosystem where coca grows. According to SachaColombia, one hectare of land can produce 3 kilos of sacha inchi seeds vs. 2.15 kilos of coca.
After examining several native crops, the entrepreneurs determined that sacha inchi was the most competitive replacement for coca. Once they had their crop, they went to work on their business model. Ironically, SachaColombia looked to the crop they were trying to replace for inspiration. After all, the cocaine industry while highly illegal, is also highly profitable. Sacha Colombia studied forty coca municipalities, and even interviewed imprisoned drug lords who were amenable to sharing their business model. The secret it seemed, is in the value chain.
Sadly for Colombia, coca is the most integrated agro-industry, which allows local producers and drug traffickers to capture more profit from the value chain. The drug lords integrated the value chain right up to the fast boats that transported the white powder to the United States. If sacha inchi wanted to replace coca, it would need to develop an integrated value chain where the crop could be processed locally, making it more profitable for local farmers. At SachaColombia, farmers own a full 50% of the entire value chain.
To gain broad local support, SachaColombia created a distributive business model that incorporates farmers as partners, processing unit owners and local business leaders. Everyone shares in the success of the business. And there are incentives to spread the model. If a member of the co-op teaches a new group the business, they get a portion of the profits from that group too. This helps the co-op transfer knowledge quickly and produce larger volumes. They call this unique blend of sharing success while providing incentives to perform, solidarity capitalism.
This distributive business model allows rural communities to keep more of the profit locally. This means farmers will be more prosperous and the standard of living will rise. Improving the equitable distribution of wealth between rural and urban communities is an important step to a more stable, safe and peaceful Colombia.
The start-up has an impressive track record. In 2014, they had 1 unit in Cauca. Today they have 110 units throughout the country and have grown to 3,700 farmers. They plan to continue expanding in the 15 departments in Co- lombia where sacha inchi can be grown, including Cundinamarca. They aim to destroy Colombia’s reliance on illegal crops with a proven alternative that is beneficial for local communities, healthy for everyone and better for the earth.
SachaColombia’s grand plan reaches beyond Colombia to the rest of Latin America. They want to ultimately trans- form the region into the number one pro- ducer of high-quality health and beauty products made from native crops, and for the first time, leverage biodiversity as the main driver for sustainable, equitable economic development.
So, the next time you want to buy a bottle of healthy cooking oil, protein powder or skin crème, why not help change the world at the same time?

In Defence of ‘Stamp Collecting’

Constructing Scientific Communities
Posted: 28 Jun 2017 10:47 PM PDT
‘That which is not measurable is not science. That which is not physics is stamp collecting’. This quote (and variants thereof) is widely attributed to the Nobel prize-winning nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford. Like all the best one-liners, it is apocryphal, but nevertheless serves as a useful stand-point from which to consider the motivations of those who participate in citizen science, and attitudes towards them. The pursuit of natural history in particular is a branch of study that suffers most from the stigma of ‘stamp collecting’, as even during its heyday in the nineteenth century, those who assiduously amassed large collections of specimens were often subject to ridicule. William Kirby and William Spence, in their Introduction to Entomology, lamented that their chosen subject was one that ‘in nine companies out of ten’ would elicit ‘pity or contempt’.
Attempting to understand the feelings that motivated the individuals who engaged in natural history during the nineteenth century is a difficult task, as you run the risk of projecting our present-day preoccupations onto historical actors who may have experienced the world very differently to us. To further complicate matters, even when these individuals appear to be telling us exactly why they pursued natural history, we of course cannot always take their word for it.
Ent. Annual 1855 FrontispieceClaims that the study of nature brought one to a greater appreciation of God and his works was an oft cited justification, and although this was certainly a factor for some, it belies the complexity and diversity of individuals’ motivations. Another reason frequently given is the simple pleasure of spending time in the countryside, and it cannot be considered a mere coincidence that natural history reached its height of popularity at a time of rapid urbanisation. The excursion culture of field clubs and natural history societies in the second half of the century was a predominantly middle-class movement that allowed white-collar workers to escape the cities and towns in preference for the woods and fields. Many of the working-classes – Lancashire handloom weavers and Sheffield cutlers – also seized any opportunity to get away from the drudgery of factory or workshop. This was generally encouraged by those who were more socially fortunate, because natural history was considered a ‘rational recreation’. Particularly during the Chartist agitations, it was thought that if workers were busy collecting plants and insects, that left them far less time in which to plot revolution. Furthermore, as the entomologist J. O. Westwood pointed out, ‘can it be denied that if, amongst the lower classes, the collecting of objects of nature, and such-like pursuits, were more general, the vice of drunkenness and the reign of gin-palaces would be over’.
‘Instruments for collecting Insects’
Collecting was a nineteenth century passion, and almost anything could be subject to the period’s acquisitive urge. Butterflies, ferns, fossils, coins, stamps – all were eagerly hunted down, though admittedly some objects, particularly those that could fly, required considerably more energy to capture than others. Exactly what drove many to this pursuit is described by the entomologist Henry Tibbats Stainton: ‘each time that the collector of insects catches some species which he has not before met with, he receives a thrill of pleasure, which is difficult to render intelligible to those who have not felt it’. This feeling of adding to your collection, particularly if the specimen is rare, will sound familiar to those of us who collected Pokémon cards or football stickers as children. Charles Darwin was himself a keen insect collector in his youth, and later rediscovered the joy through his three sons, writing to Joseph Dalton Hooker, ‘I am reminded of old days by my third boy having just begun collecting beetles’, and related how ‘my blood boiled with old ardour when he caught a Licinus – a prize unknown to me’.
GalliersWe can only speculate what drove Thomas Galliers, the Liverpool policeman, to collect insects during the 1850s, just as we must guess as to what his superiors would have thought of his use of official ‘Liverpool Constabulary Force’ stationary to write letters to the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer. Galliers’ correspondence with the editor of this periodical, Henry Tibbats Stainton, reveals that he was not content simply with amassing a collection. In August 1858, the policeman wrote to Stainton, enclosing ‘a fair sketch of a beetle I captured when flying near the Dingle Wood about this time last year’ (one can only presume that Galliers meant that the beetle, rather than himself, was flying when he caught it). Galliers hoped that Stainton might wish to give ‘a representation of it in the shape of a woodcut in the Intelligencer’, as he felt ‘such a fine specimen might gratify your readers’. This is typical of many communications received by Stainton in his role as editor, with many correspondents hoping they had acquired an unusual specimen that would make a valuable contribution to the periodical, and possibly to science itself. Unfortunately for Galliers, it seems he was disappointed on this account, as his beetle was not published in the Intelligencer.
Talking to the people who run twenty-first century citizen science projects, I am struck at how they are constantly surprised at the number and diversity of those who participate in their projects. Present-day citizen scientists have as many different motives and approaches as their nineteenth century antecedents, each choosing to devote their leisure time to counting penguins, spotting exoplanets, or identifying images from nineteenth century periodicals. For some, it is simply more interesting way of passing the time than watching television or browsing social media, but for others, the burning desire to make a contribution to science lies at the heart of their enjoyment of such activities. Even Ernest Rutherford would surely approve of that.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

“I’m only human”: the rise and rise of male singers who cannot take criticism


Some libraries have special features


Sea otters, social justice, and ecosystem-service perceptions in Clayoquot Sound, Canada

 2017 Apr;31(2):343-352. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12795. Epub 2017 Jan 18.

Author information

Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada.
Department of Social Psychology, London School of Economics, 3rd Floor Queens House, 55/56 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3LJ, U.K.


We sought to take a first step toward better integration of social concerns into empirical ecosystem service (ES) work. We did this by adapting cognitive anthropological techniques to study the Clayoquot Sound social-ecological system on the Pacific coast of Canada's Vancouver Island. We used freelisting and ranking exercises to elicit how locals perceive ESs and to determine locals' preferred food species. We analyzed these data with the freelist-analysis software package ANTHROPAC. We considered the results in light of an ongoing trophic cascade caused by the government reintroduction of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) and their spread along the island's Pacific coast. We interviewed 67 local residents (n = 29 females, n = 38 males; n = 26 self-identified First Nation individuals, and n = 41 non-First Nation individuals) and 4 government managers responsible for conservation policy in the region. We found that the mental categories participants-including trained ecologists-used to think about ESs, did not match the standard academic ES typology. With reference to the latest ecological model projections for the region, we found that First Nations individuals and women were most likely to perceive the most immediate ES losses from the trophic cascade, with the most certainty. The inverse was found for men and non-First Nations individuals, generally. This suggests that 2 historically disadvantaged groups (i.e., First Nations and women) are poised to experience the immediate impacts of the government-initiated trophic cascade as yet another social injustice in a long line of perceived inequities. Left unaddressed, this could complicate efforts at multistakeholder ecosystem management in the region.


antropología cognitiva; aversión por la pérdida; cercano a la costa; coastal; cognitive anthropology; costero; ecosystem services; indigenous people; inequality; inequidad; loss aversion; nearshore; personas indígenas; servicios ambientales

Predicting animal home-range structure and transitions using a multistate Ornstein-Uhlenbeck biased random walk.

 2017 Jan;98(1):32-47. doi: 10.1002/ecy.1615. Epub 2016 Nov 28.

Author information

Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2E9, Canada.
Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska, 99775, USA.
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, 8272 Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing, California, 95039, USA.
U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center Santa Cruz Field Station, 100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, California, 95060, USA.


The home-range concept is central in animal ecology and behavior, and numerous mechanistic models have been developed to understand home range formation and maintenance. These mechanistic models usually assume a single, contiguous home range. Here we describe and implement a simple home-range model that can accommodate multiple home-range centers, form complex shapes, allow discontinuities in use patterns, and infer how external and internal variables affect movement and use patterns. The model assumes individuals associate with two or more home-range centers and move among them with some estimable probability. Movement in and around home-range centers is governed by a two-dimensional Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process, while transitions between centers are modeled as a stochastic state-switching process. We augmented this base model by introducing environmental and demographic covariates that modify transition probabilities between home-range centers and can be estimated to provide insight into the movement process. We demonstrate the model using telemetry data from sea otters (Enhydra lutris) in California. The model was fit using a Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo method, which estimated transition probabilities, as well as unique Ornstein-Uhlenbeck diffusion and centralizing tendency parameters. Estimated parameters could then be used to simulate movement and space use that was virtually indistinguishable from real data. We used Deviance Information Criterion (DIC) scores to assess model fit and determined that both wind and reproductive status were predictive of transitions between home-range centers. Females were less likely to move between home-range centers on windy days, less likely to move between centers when tending pups, and much more likely to move between centers just after weaning a pup. These tendencies are predicted by theoretical movement rules but were not previously known and show that our model can extract meaningful behavioral insight from complex movement data.


Markov model; Markov process; animal movement; biased random walk; movement model; sea otter

Isolating anti-Alzheimer's compounds in plants: Scientists develop new technique to isolate active therapeutic compounds for Alzheimer's disease from plants

Dr Rogers Prize Gala

Thursday, September 14, 2017 | 6:00 to 9:30 PM
Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, Vancouver, BC
Early Bird Tickets Now on Sale!
The $250,000 Dr. Rogers Prize is awarded every two years to celebrate the achievements of individuals who have impacted the practice and progress of health care in Canada. Join us for the announcement of the 2017 winner!
Dr. Helene Langevin
Keynote Speaker
Dr. Helene Langevin
Director of Osher Center for Integrative Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Dr. Langevin has been Principal Investigator of seven NIH-funded studies investigating the role of connective tissue in musculoskeletal pain and the mechanisms of acupuncture, manual and movement based therapies. She received an MD degree from McGill University, followed by a post doctoral research fellowship in Neurochemistry at the MRC Neurochemical Pharmacology Unit in Cambridge, England, and a residency in Internal Medicine and fellowship in Endocrinology and Metabolism at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She is a Professor in Residence of Medicine and Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. Langevin is also a Visiting Professor of Neurology, Orthopedics and Rehabilitation at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

No immediate end to testy relationship between Vancouver crow and Canada Post

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Boaty McBoatface submarine records successful maiden voyage

‘Boaty is already delivering new insight into some of the coldest ocean waters on Earth,’ said Universities and science minister Jo Johnson.

BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 17 Supplement 1 2017 (in press) World Congress Integrative Medicine & Health Berlin, Germany, 3–5 May 2017 This is a preliminary publication of the WCIMH 2017 Meeting Abstracts. The final version will be published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in June. This publication was funded by WCIMH 2017 Meeting Abstracts

Yoga Similar to Physical Therapy in Helping Low-Back Pain in a Diverse Urban Population via @NIH_NCCIH

Three women practicing yoga
Source: Annals of Internal Medicine
Results of a new NCCIH-funded study show yoga and physical therapy offer similar pain-relief and functional benefits to people with low socioeconomic status who had chronic low-back pain. These improvements were greater than self-education; however, they were not considered significant. These findings suggest that a structured yoga program may be an alternative to physical therapy for people with chronic low-back pain, depending on individual preferences, availability, and cost.
The year-long study, which enrolled racially diverse adults with low socioeconomic status, was conducted at Boston University and included researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, the University of Washington, and the RAND Corporation. It was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Some studies suggest yoga helps with symptoms of chronic low-back pain. But the evidence has been sparse on whether yoga’s benefits extend across diverse populations, including racial or ethnic minorities, those with lower socioeconomic status, or those with challenges in obtaining medical care because of health disparities.
In the first 12-week phase of the study, researchers randomly assigned 320 predominantly low-income, racially diverse adults aged 18 to 64 with chronic low-back pain (of no specific cause) to one of three groups:
  • One group participated in a 75-minute yoga class, once per week, taught by a yoga instructor, along with home practice.
  • Another group received individual physical therapy of up to 15 one-hour sessions delivered by a physical therapist and combined with home practice.
  • The final group received an education handbook on self-care for back pain; every 3 weeks, they received brief newsletters that summarized the main points from assigned chapters. Members of this group also received r periodic check-in calls.
The researchers measured participants’ average pain intensity and disability related to back pain at the study’s start and then at 6, 12, 26, 40, and 52 weeks.
In the next phase of the study, members of the yoga and physical therapy groups who had attended at least one of their classes or sessions were randomly assigned to new groups. For example, the yoga participants were assigned to either home practice or drop-in yoga classes, and the physical therapy participants to either home practice only or five “booster” sessions of physical therapy. The education group continued reviewing their materials and receiving check-in calls.
The researchers found that for pain and function, yoga and physical therapy had similar results, and both were better than the education group. Further, at 12 weeks, the yoga and physical therapy groups were less likely than the education group to use any pain medication. Improvements in the yoga and physical therapy groups were maintained at the end of the 52 weeks. The benefits of these two groups appeared to be associated with the number of classes/sessions participants attended.
Additional analyses of these data are planned, including on cost effectiveness, work productivity, and perceived depression and anxiety.


Publication Date: 
June 19, 2017