Ancient remedy crushes “breakthrough” depression drug

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Two breakthrough treatments for depression have been making headlines over the last few weeks.

One is ketamine — an illegal party drug called “Special K.” There is a legal use for it — as a heavy-duty anesthetic for horses!

Although it seems to work for some severely depressed people, the doctors prescribing it have no idea how or why it works, or what the long-term effects will be for the patients who take it.

What we do know is that chronic use of ketamine has been linked to cognitive impairment and bladder inflammation. Taking too high a dose causes hallucinations and temporary paralysis. A ketamine addiction can lead to brain damage.

Then there’s the other novel treatment for depression that’s making headlines. This one has a safety record that spans thousands of years — and it doesn’t even require a prescription.

It’s yoga.

In a recent study, people who took yoga classes at least twice a week experienced a decrease in their symptoms of major depression.1 The study used lyengar yoga, which improves strength, mobility and balance. The study also included deep relaxation (savasana) and instruction in controlled breathing.

The people in the study were put in two groups. One group participated in 90-minute yoga classes three times a week. The other group practiced 90 minutes twice a week. Both groups were also asked to practice at home. Each group contained men and women who were taking prescription antidepressants as well as those who did not.

At the end of the study, both groups reported an improvement in their depression symptoms… whether they were taking antidepressants or not!

Another recent study at the University of California in San Francisco is reporting similar results. Thirty-eight adults with major depression took part in an 8-week hatha yoga program.  Hatha yoga focuses on physical and mental strength-building exercises and postures.

Participants attended 90-minute hatha yoga practice groups twice weekly, and they all experienced clinically significant reductions in symptom severity.2

Major depression is common, chronic and can be disabling. Up to 40% of people treated with common medications for major depression still suffer from symptoms.3  I’ve had patients come to me after being on these addictive meds for decades, and I worry about the damage being done to their brains and livers.

I don’t prescribe these drugs. Instead, I tell my patients to make sure they’re getting plenty of omega-3s every day. They reduce symptom severity in people with bipolar and unipolar depression, as well as ADHD.4

Maintaining healthy omega-3s is one of the best ways I know of for preventing depression. I recommend you take at least 500 mg of DHA and 60 mg of EPA from a combination of squid oil and krill oil with astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant.

Look for an instructor that teaches Iyengar yoga if you can. It’s a form of Hatha yoga that includes Pranayama (breath control).

In the Iyengar study, each yoga class ended with the Savasana pose. Also called the “Corpse Pose,” Savasana is my favorite 15 minutes of any yoga class. Here’s how to do it…

The Corpse Pose

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight and arms at your sides. Rest your hands a few inches away from your body with your palms up. Let your feet fall open. Close your eyes. If you find you get cold when doing the pose, cover yourself with a blanket.
  1. Let your breath occur naturally, and allow your body to feel heavy on the ground.
  1. Starting from the soles of your feet and working all the way up to the crown of your head, consciously “release” each body part, organ and cell.
  1. Relax your face. Welcome peace and silence into your mind, body and soul.
  1. Stay in Savasana for at least five minutes. (You should do at least five minutes for every half hour of yoga you practice.)
  1. To exit the pose, first begin to deepen your breathing. Begin wiggling your fingers and toes to bring awareness back to your body. Roll onto your right side and rest and breathe there for a moment. As you inhale, gently raise yourself into a comfortable seated position. Let your head be the last thing to come into place.

Savasana is safe for everyone. If you are uncomfortable lying on your back, place a bolster or rolled up blanket under your knees to take the weight off your pelvis so your lower back can release and relax.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

Al Sears, MD, CNS

1. Streeter, CC., et al. “Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder with Iyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing: A Randomized Controlled Dosing Study.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, March 2017, 23(3): 201-207.
2. Prathikanti S., et al. “Treating major depression with yoga: A prospective, randomized, controlled pilot trial.” PLoS ONE 12(3): e0173869.
3. Boston University Medical Center. “Twice weekly yoga classes plus home practice effective in reducing symptoms of depression.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 March 2017.
4. McNamara, RK., et al. “Preventative Strategies for Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder: Towards a Clinical Staging Model.” CNS Drugs 24.12 (Dec 2010): 983-96.

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