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. 2013 Jul;55(Suppl 3):S405-8.
doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.116315.

Cortisol and Antidepressant Effects of Yoga

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Free PMC article

Cortisol and Antidepressant Effects of Yoga

J Thirthalli et al. Indian J Psychiatry. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Context: Hypercortisolemia is well-known in depression and yoga has been demonstrated earlier to reduce the parameters of stress, including cortisol levels.

Aim: We aimed to find the role of yoga as an antidepressant as well as its action on lowering the serum cortisol levels.

Settings and design: An open-labeled study consisting of three groups (yoga alone, yoga along with antidepressant medication and antidepressant medication alone) was conducted at a tertiary care psychiatry hospital.

Methodology: Out-patient depressives who were not suicidal were offered yoga as a possible antidepressant therapy. A validated yoga module was used as therapy taught over a month and to be practiced at home daily. Patients were free to choose the drugs if their psychiatrist advised. Patients (n=54) were rated on Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) with serum cortisol measurements at baseline and after 3 months. In 54 patients, assessments and blood test results were both available. 19 each received yoga alone or with drugs and 16 received drugs only. Healthy comparison subjects (n=18) too underwent morning cortisol measurements once.

Results: Serum cortisol was higher in depressives compared with controls. In the total sample, the cortisol level dropped significantly at the end of treatment. More patients in the yoga groups had a drop in cortisol levels as compared to drug-only group. In the yoga-only group, the cortisol drop correlated with the drop in HDRS score (antidepressant effect).

Conclusion: The findings support that yoga may act at the level of the hypothalamus by its 'anti-stress' effects (reducing the cortisol), to bring about relief in depression.

Keywords: Cortisol; depression; hypercortisolemia; stress; yoga.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of Interest: None declared.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
The drop in depression scores correlated significantly with the drop in cortisol levels for yoga-only treatment group (n=19)
Figure 2
Figure 2
The change in hamilton depression rating scale scores in both cortisol-response groups

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