A recent article in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine reported on a study put in place to help determine if the changes in mood, anxiety and GABA levels are specific to yoga or related to physical activity.
Yoga and exercise have beneficial effects on mood and anxiety. The practice of yoga postures is associated with increased brain GABA levels. GABA levels are found to be reduced in mood and anxiety disorders. In this study, healthy subjects with no significant medical/psychiatric disorders were randomized to yoga or a metabolically matched walking intervention for 60 minutes, 3 times a week for 12 weeks. Mood and anxiety scales were taken at weeks 0,4,8,12 and before each a magnetic spectroscopy exam was performed to measure GABA levels.
The yoga subjects reported greater improvement in mood and greater decreases in anxiety than the walking group. There were positive correlations between improved mood and decreased anxiety and thalamic GABA levels and the yoga group had positive correlations between changes in mood scales and changes in GABA levels.
The 12-week yoga intervention was associated with greater improvements in mood and anxiety than a metabolically matched walking exercise. “This was actually the first study to demonstrate that increased thalamic GABA levels are associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety,” said Dr. Dougherty, a Spokane-based, D.C., who follows health and wellness issues closely in professional journals and other publications, “and it was also the first time that a behavioral intervention has been associated with a possible correlation between acute increases in thalamic GABA levels and improvements in mood and anxiety scales.” Reduced activity in GABA systems has been found in mood disorders, anxiety disorders and epilepsy.
There is a large body of research on the beneficial effects of exercise on depression and anxiety. The results of exercise as a treatment for mild to moderate depression compare favorably to psychotherapy and pharmacologic intervention. In this study, the yoga intervention was associated with greater improvements in mood and decreases in anxiety compared to the walking intervention.
“This is just one study,” explained Dr. Dougherty, “but the possible role of GABA in mediating the beneficial effects of yoga on mood and anxiety warrants further study.”
Anyone wishing more information may contact Dr. Dougherty, whose office is located at 2110 N. Washington Street, Spokane WA (telephone 509-327-4373).