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The Effects of Yoga on Hypertension

Megan Boyle

October 10, 2008

Hypertension is a dangerous disease with no known cure.† Despite its complexity and widespread effects, many people believe that simple, ancient practice if yoga is effective tool in combating this disease.

Hypertension is a medical condition in which the pressure of the blood pushing against the blood vessel walls is persistently high.† High blood pressure forces the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body, and when blood pressure is continually high hardening of the arteries and heart failure can develop.† Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80, and anything 140 and above/90 and above is considered hypertension.† Suggested treatment for this disease can involve drugs and always involves lifestyle changes such as physical activity, dietary modifications, quitting smoking, and stress reduction (http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/blood-pressure-basics).

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What is Hypertension?

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Why Yoga?

Yoga, a type of exercise involving postures and breathing practices aimed at unifying the mind and body (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/yoga) is often seen as an effective form of stress reduction.† Yoga is advocated for by Dr. Sujit Chandratreya, a researcher with Yoga Vidya Gurukul which is a yoga institute that offers yoga education and researched yoga.† He offers biological explanation for his claims that practicing yoga regularly reduces blood pressure.† According to Dr. Chandratreya, high blood pressure is a result of continual activation of the bodyís response to stress.† Stress produces the hormones adosterone and vasopressin, vasoconstrictors, and adrenaline.† Dr. Chandratreya claims that yoga turns off the bodyís response to stress, thereby decreasing adrenaline levels and blood pressure.† He also asserts that yoga may bring down levels of the stress hormones vasopressin and adosterone.† Dr. Chandratreya presents this information to explain why yoga decreases blood pressure, but he does not offer any evidence to support his claims (http://www.yogapoint.com/therapy/hypertension_yoga.htm).

 

Dr. Rao Nanduri and M. Venkata Reddy, the Director of Vemana Yoga Research Institute, offer further explanations for the blood pressure benefits of yoga.† They state that 80 percent of hypertension cases are the result of stress, and that yoga can treat hypertension by helping patients free themselves of stress.† They claim that the mind is central to the development of hypertension and that yoga eliminates the imbalance of the mind that causes stress, thus lowering blood pressure.† Nanduri and Reddy propose these explanations to advocates hypertension treatment without medication.† They claim that these effects are documented in research but they fail to provide specific information about this research (http://www.personalmd.com/news/yoga_page1_021100.shtml).

 

 

Advocates of yoga treatment for hypertension make the claim that benefits are achieved through the reduction of stress.† A study by Smith, Hancock, Blake-Mortimer, & Eckert (2007) provides evidence for this claim.† This study compared yoga and relaxation as methods for reducing stress and anxiety.† Ten weekly one-hour sessions of either relaxation or yoga were offered to the experimental groups, and stress and anxiety were measured using the State Trait Personality Inventory subscale anxiety, which measures the subjectís anxiety state, and the General Health Questionnaire, which measures psychological distress.† Smith et al. (2007) found that yoga significantly improves levels of stress and anxiety but that these improvements were not any greater those of the relaxation group.†

 

Is Yoga an Effective Treatment for Hypertension?

Although the Smith et al. (2007) study found that yoga reduces stress and anxiety, it did not find any affect on blood pressure for the yoga group.† This suggests that the regular practice of yoga is not necessarily sufficient in treating hypertension.† However, several other studies found contradictory evidence. For instance, a comprehensive review of the effects of yoga on chronic diseases such as overweight, hypertension, high glucose level, and high cholesterol found that yoga is effective in lowering blood pressure.† This review linked body mass index to hypertension and found that yoga can significantly reduce weight.† It also provided support for blood pressure benefits in subjects with hypertension in seven studies.† Blood pressure in these patients improved significantly with yoga practice.† However, most of these studies identified only the short-term benefits of yoga (Yang, 2007).

A study aimed at assessing the benefits of yoga on risk factors for coronary artery disease also found that yoga has a significant effect on lowering blood pressure.† Participants engaged in yoga and meditation classes for 90 minutes a day three times a week for six weeks.† The mean baseline measure for blood pressure was 130/79, and at the conclusion of the study, mean blood pressure for the cohort dropped significantly to 125/74.† All participants did not have hypertension however, so it is unclear whether the method used would have specific implications for a hypertensive population (Sivasankaran et al., 2006).

Furthermore, a study that focused on the effect of yoga on stress, body mass index, heart rate, and blood pressure among hypertensive patients found that yoga practices are associated with decreased blood pressure.† Participants practiced yoga three times per week for eight weeks.† There was also a control group that received information about hypertension but no yoga instruction.† Stress was measured with the Stress Assessment Questionnaire, and blood pressure information was taken from medical records.† The study found a significant difference between the stress scores of the experimental and control group at the conclusion of the study even though there was no baseline difference.† It also found that blood pressure decreased continually from the second to the eighth week.† Prior to the yoga treatment, the mean blood pressure was 160.89/98.52, and at the conclusion of the eighth week it was 136.04/81.01.† This supports the claims that yoga acts as an effective treatment for hypertension through the reduction of stress (McCaffrey, Ruknui, Hatthakit, & Kasetsomboon, 2005).

Conclusion

All of the evidence suggests that yoga is an effective treatment for hypertension.† The studies summarized above support the claims that hypertension is greatly influenced by stress, and stress reduction via yoga practices reduces the effects of the disease.† However, it is still unclear whether it is enough of a treatment for everyone with hypertension.† Further studies should be done to identify who benefits most from yoga and if there are certain people who would not benefit from the treatment.


 

References

Chandratreya, S. (2008). Hypertension and Yoga. Retrieved October 10, 2008, from http://www.yogapoint.com/therapy/hypertension_yoga.htm

Chang, L. (2005). Hypertension: Blood Pressure Basics. Retrieved October 10, 2008, from http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/blood-pressure-basics

McCaffrey, R., Ruknui, P., Hatthakit, U., Kasetsomboon, P. (2005). The effects of yoga on hypertensive persons in Thailand. Holistic Nursing Practices, 19(4), 173-180.

Nanduri, R. & Reddy, M. (2000). Yoga: How You Can Control High Blood Pressure Without Medication. Retrieved October 10, 2008, from http://www.personalmd.com/news/yoga _page1_021100.shtml

Sivasankaran, S., Pollard-Quintner, S., Sachdeva, R., Pugeda, J., Hoq, S., & Zarich, S. (2006). The effect of a six-week program of yoga and meditation on brachial artery reactivity: Do psychosocial interventions affect vascular tone? Clinical Cardiology, 29, 393-398.

Smith, C., Hancock, H., Blake-Mortimer, J., & Eckert, K. (2007). A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce and anxiety. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 15, 77-83.

Yang, K. (2007). A review of yoga programs for four leading risk factors of chronic disease. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4(4), 487-491.

Yoga. (2006). In Dictionary. Retrieved October 10, 2008, from http://dictionary.com

 

 

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