Yoga May Help Treat Depression, Anxiety Disorders
Thursday, June 7, 2007; 12:00 AM
THURSDAY, June 7 (HealthDay News) -- Yoga's postures, controlled breathing and meditation may work together to help ease brains plagued by anxiety or depression, a new study shows.
Brain scans of yoga practitioners showed a healthy boost in levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) immediately after a one-hour yoga session. Low brain levels of GABA are associated with anxiety and depression, the researchers said.
"I am quite sure that this is the first study that's shown that there's a real, measurable change in a major neurotransmitter with a behavioral intervention such as yoga," said lead researcher Dr. Chris Streeter, assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine.
She believes yoga could prove a useful tool to help people battling depression and anxiety disorders. "We're not advocating that they chuck their medication, but I would advise that they could use it as an adjunct and see how they are doing," Streeter said.
Her team published its findings in the May issue of theJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
In the study, the Boston researchers used high-tech magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging to gauge levels of GABA in the brains of eight long-time yoga practitioners and 11 non-practitioners. The participants were healthy, and none was diagnosed with a major psychiatric condition.
Brain scans were taken before the beginning of the experiment. Then, the yoga group was asked to engage in the meditative practice for 60 minutes, while the non-yoga group simply read. The researchers then re-scanned each participant's brain, looking specifically at GABA levels.
"We showed a 27 percent increase in the brain GABA levels of those doing yoga -- a really significant increase," Streeter said. No such change was noted in the non-practitioners who had just read.
She said the style or school of yoga practiced didn't seem to matter. "We hadhatha,ashtanga,bikram,vinyasa, andkripalu" practitioners included in the yoga group, Streeter said, "and many had been trained in several different schools."
According to Streeter, "this all gives us one of the mechanisms by which yoga may be having a beneficial effect. There could be other mechanisms."
But another expert pointed to what he considered flaws in the research.
Zindel Segal, chairman of psychotherapy and a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Toronto, has for years studied the use of behavioral interventions to alleviate psychological woes.