Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), New York Medical College (NYMC), and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (CCPS) looked at evidence that yoga may be effective in treating patients with stress-related medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and cardiac disease.
Their theory, which appears in the journal Medical Hypotheses, could be used to develop specific mind-body practices for the prevention and treatment of these conditions in conjunction with standard treatments.
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One theory is that stress causes an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system (parasympathetic under-activity and sympathetic over-activity) as well as under-activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA). Low GABA activity occurs in anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, epilepsy, and chronic pain.
“Western and Eastern medicine complement one another. Yoga is known to improve stress-related nervous system imbalances,” said Chris Streeter, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM, who is the study’s lead author.
“Dr. Streeter believes that “This paper provides a theory, based on neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, to understand how yoga helps patients feel better by relieving symptoms in many common disorders.”
An earlier study by BUSM researchers comparing a walking group and a yoga group over a 12-week period found no increase in GABA levels in the walking group, whereas the yoga group showed increased GABA levels and decreased anxiety.
J Altern Complement Med. 2010 November; 16(11): 1145–1152. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0007 “Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study” Chris C. Streeter, MD, et al. Division of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine, 85 East Newton Street, M912-E, Boston, MA 02118.