The effects of yoga among Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients

Positions of Power

I never tried yoga until recently when I began taking hatha yoga classes to address some back and neck problems. “Hatha yoga” has become a sort of generic term used to describe the series of physical positions that provide gentle stretching and exercise.

I’ve only had about four yoga sessions, but already the pain has been reduced, and I’ve also been feeling a little more energized. So when I came across a study that examined the effects of yoga on fatigue and mood among multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, I was intrigued, because the management of MS symptoms has been an important focus at HSI for several years.

And also – let’s face it – just about everyone can use a boost in the mood and fatigue departments.

Goodbye, fatigue

In a recent issue of the journal Neurology, researchers in the Department of Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University reported on a study in which 57 MS patients were divided into three groups:

* One group attended a weekly class in Iyengar yoga; a type of yoga that emphasizes increased flexibility and strength by correcting body alignment and posture

* One group received aerobic exercise on stationary bicycles in a weekly exercise class

* One group didn’t participate in a formal exercise program

Both before and after a six month trial period, researchers used “cognitive measures” to assess the subjects’ attention, alertness, mood, anxiety level, fatigue and health-related quality of life.

The Oregon team found no clear changes in mood, attention or alertness in any of the three groups. But both of the two exercise groups reported a significant improvement in energy and relief of fatigue, compared to the non-exercising group.

Help from the head

I can’t help but think that mood and other cognitive factors might have improved in the Neurology study if the sessions had been two or more times each week instead of only one, because previous research has clearly shown that exercise can help relieve depression.

In the March 2002 issue of Real Health Breakthroughs, William Campbell Douglass, M.D., wrote about a New York doctor – Reuven Sandyk, M.D., M.Sc. – who believes that many MS problems may be associated with calcification of the pineal gland, which contains the brain’s highest concentration of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps regulate our sense of wellbeing. Dr. Sandyk theorizes that the pineal calcification may contribute to MS symptoms such as fatigue, depression, sleep disorders and carbohydrate craving.

In addition to exercise, Dr. Sandyk recommends these natural ways to prompt the body to produce more serotonin:

* Try to spend a few minutes in the sun each day. Even twenty minutes may make a big difference.

* Increase your intake of food sources of L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is a precursor of serotonin. These foods include raw milk, sunflower seeds, bananas, turkey, nuts, and corn.

* Supplements that may promote the production of serotonin include biotin, magnesium, and vitamins B-1, B- 3, B-6 and B-12.

On the bounce

Unfortunately, patients with advanced MS may be too incapacitated to exercise. For some of them, rebounding may provide an alternative.

In “This week in the HSI Forum” (2/14/04), I told you about a Forum thread titled “Multiple Sclerosis” that contained a posting from a member named Oldbob regarding a keynote speaker at his local annual MS society meeting. Oldbob writes: “Amongst other things, he was expounding on the benefits of ‘therapeutic’ or gentle rebounding. I tried it at a booth the manufacturer had set up. The immediate benefit for me was in my lower spine which hurts due to sitting around for most of the time.”

A member named Leppert posted follow up comments, explaining that a rebounder is a mini-trampoline, and she added, “I have equilibrium problems so use a security bar that I hang on to when I gently bounce. Even though I don’t exercise vigorouslyit does get my pulse rate up.”

In addition to MS patients, people with arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and chronic fatigue may benefit from the light aerobic activity provided by rebounding. And for that matter, all of these conditions might be relieved to some extent through yoga as well.

If you’ve tried yoga and experienced obvious health benefits, please send along an e-mail and I’ll share details with HSI members in a future e-Alert.


“Randomized Controlled Trial of Yoga and Exercise in Multiple Sclerosis” Neurology, Vol. 62, No. 11, 6/8/04,