Health & Wellbeing

Kundalini yoga provides unique brain benefits, finds UCLA study

Kundalini yoga provides unique brain benefits, finds UCLA study
Kundalini yoga has numerous brain health benefits, according to new research
Kundalini yoga has numerous brain health benefits, according to new research
View 1 Image
Kundalini yoga has numerous brain health benefits, according to new research
Kundalini yoga has numerous brain health benefits, according to new research

A 12-week Kundalini yoga course provided test subjects a range of measurable brain benefits including improved memory, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects, according to new research from UCLA, suggesting it could help prevent Alzheimer's disease.

Women have about twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to men due to several risk factors, including longer life expectancy, genetics, and hormonal changes that occur during menopause. While yoga’s health benefits – improved strength, flexibility, and mental health – have been known for some time, a new study has added improved brain functioning, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects to the list.

UCLA Health researchers tested it against memory enhancement training, and found that Kundalini yoga provided several benefits to cognition and memory in women aged 50 and older at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Unlike other types of yoga, Kundalini yoga is more spiritual, focusing on breathwork and physical postures and incorporating chanting, meditation, and singing.

The researchers recruited 79 women aged 50 and over with self-reported subjective cognitive decline (compared to the previous year’s functioning) and the presence of one or more cardiovascular risk factors, including a history of heart attack, prior diabetes diagnosis, current blood pressure medication(s) or current medications for high cholesterol.

‘Subjective cognitive decline’ required that participants had self-reported memory problems in the past six months that occurred at least once a week, an ability to give an example in which memory problems occur in everyday life, the belief that memory has declined compared to five-to-10 years previously, absence of overt cognitive deficits or a dementia diagnosis, and concerns or worries about memory problems.

Forty participants were randomized to the yoga intervention and 39 to the memory training intervention. The yoga intervention consisted of weekly, 60-minute in-person lessons with a certified Kundalini yoga instructor for 12 weeks.

The memory training intervention also went on for 12 weeks and involved weekly in-person classes to teach memory strategies such as the use of stories to remember lists, visual association strategies for learning faces and names, and learning to implement memory habits to recall where an item was placed and what activities were recently performed (e.g., locking doors, turning off household appliances).

The researchers tested the women’s cognitive functioning at baseline and the 24-week follow-up. Memory was tested at baseline, with 12- and 24-week follow-ups. They also analyzed the participants’ blood for cytokines – proteins that act as immune system messengers – and determined changes in gene expression. A small group of participants had a brain MRI scan at baseline and 12 weeks to assess changes in brain matter.

At 24 weeks, the researchers found that only the Kundalini yoga group had improvements in subjective memory. Compared to memory training, yoga intervention produced an increase in the volume of the hippocampus and improved functional connectivity in that region, whose largest job is to hold short-term memories and transfer them to long-term storage in the brain.

At 12- and 24-weeks after the intervention, yoga but not memory training participants demonstrated a reversal of aging biomarkers, including an improvement in gene expression of anti-inflammatory and anti-aging molecules. Levels of the protein eotaxin-1 significantly increased in the memory training group but not in the yoga group. Studies have associated age-related increases in eotaxin-1 with cognitive impairments in episodic and semantic memory, long-term memory involving the capacity to recall words, concepts, or numbers.

“This is what yoga is good for – to reduce stress, to improve brain health, subjective memory performance and reduce inflammation and improve neuroplasticity,” said Helen Lavretsky, the study’s corresponding author.

The main improvements in the memory training intervention group were in participants’ long-term memory.

Further studies are needed to determine whether Kundalini yoga produces long-term improvements that could prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease. However, the researchers say their findings demonstrate that combining yoga and memory training could provide comprehensive cognitive benefits to older women.

“Ideally, people should do both because they do train different parts of the brain and have different overall health effects,” Lavretsky said. “Yoga has this anti-inflammatory, stress, reducing, anti-aging neuroplasticity brain effect which would be complimentary to memory training.”

The study was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Source: UCLA Health

No comments
There are no comments. Be the first!