“So the question is whether these small molecules that work on neurogenesis in the hippocampus also work on these other parts of the brain involved in depression. I don’t think neurogenesis is the be-all and end-all of depression, but it’s certainly very important.”
A new drug recently passed through second phase of clinical trials, a drug which battles depression by molecularly inducing neurogenesis in the hippocampus without effecting the brain’s serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine receptors. The payoff? The potential of alleviating the side effects associated with traditional antidepressents.
After screening over 500 compounds on neural stem cells, BrainCells, a San Diego based pharmaceutical research company, discovered BCI-540 succeeded in stimulating the cells to create neurons.
The idea that the brain was not capable of producing new cells was debunked in 1999 by Salk Institute Professor Rusty Gage, with the publication of research evidencing neural grown in the gyrus of human brains.
Researchers were initially aware of the significant role exercise and an enriched environment play in neurogenesis. And while scientists have since advocated antidepressent therapy for its efficiency in generating neural growth, side effects have diminished its effectiveness.
“The failures in central nervous system drugs have tended to be late and for failure of efficacy, in part because there hasn’t been a good biological basis for [the action of drugs on] many of these diseases, particularly in psychiatry,” says BrainCells CEO Jim Schoeneck.
“A suite of changes occurs in the brains of people with depression: hippocampal volume reduction, decreased density in glial cells and neuronal size in the prefrontal cortex, and changes in blood flow and glucose metabolism in the hippocampus and amygdala.
Still, researchers remain uncertain as to how central a role neurogensis alone plays in alleviating depression. A major issue is determining how new cells can actually integrate into a system in a remedial and effective manner.
adult neuroplasticity is a vastly undertapped resource, one with which Western medicine and psychology are just now coming to grips. An important emerging research agenda is to figure out ways to direct and maximize this brain repair and reorganization.
Two new books, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain (Ballantine Books, $24.95) by science journalist Sharon Begley and The Brain That Changes Itself (Viking, $24.95) by psychiatrist Norman Doidge, offer masterfully guided tours through the burgeoning field of neuroplasticity research.
Exercise, Meditation & Neurogenesis
- Develop a regular mental workout plan to match your physical workout.
- The simplest and most complete methods are the computer-based programs that challenge you mentally with a variety of new stimuli. We will be talking about this in more depth in coming weeks.
- Read, play chess, do sudoku, complete puzzles (of all kinds – visual, linguistic, numerical), learn to play a musical instrument, take a class, etc.
- Eat well.
- Get plenty of physical exercise.
- Reduce your stress.
- Get enough sleep.
Using an MRI scanner, the Columbia researchers led by Professor Scott Small examined a living brain before and after exercise and, for the first time, were able to see neurogenesis effectively in action.
Exercise helps Qi stagnation. Naturally when we have a pathology that arises from the lack of movement, then movement will assist this condition. Exercises that marry the breath to movement such as yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong (Chi Kung) or others can have an even greater positive effect on Qi stagnation (and thus, depression). This is because the Lungs too have a relationship with Qi circulation in that they are said to “dominate” the Qi. They seem to have a sort of pumping effect on the Qi’s movement something like the Heart pumps the blood through the body. The Lungs are the propelling force for the Qi while the Liver is in charge of keeping the channels lubricated so that Qi can circulate more easily.
The fact that stress prevents neurogenesis of the nerves in the hippocampus and exercise stimulates this new growth indicates that Qi stagnation can be at least partly quantified by the amount of new nerve growth in the inner brain.
Clinical Trials: Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) in Unipolar and Bipolar Disorders
Major depression, chronic depression and bipolar depression are complex and difficult disorders to treat. They are often associated with residual symptoms with significant functional impairment. SKY (a form of yoga) has been shown to be beneficial in treating depressive symptoms but without the added risks associated with medication use and has the advantage of high consumer appeal (with likelihood of good compliance). However, it has only been tested in unipolar depression, thus far. SKY, if shown to be effective (as an adjunctive to pharmacotherapy) in improving residual symptoms and decreasing risk of relapse, would be of significant long-term benefit to patients not only with major and chronic depression, but also for those with bipolar disorder.
The aim of the study is to determine the safety and effectiveness of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) as an augmentation treatment to pharmacotherapy and in comparison to psychoeducation, in improving residual symptoms of depression.
Clinical trials at NIMHANS, Bangalore, showed that regular practise of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) – a set of breathing techniques promoted by Sri Sri Ravishankar, founder of the Bangalore based Art of Living Foundation – reduces symptoms of mental depression. NIMHANS researchers claim that SKY is as effective as the established anti-depressant drug imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, (Depsonil, Antidep). All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, has reported that SKYand Pranayam sessions reduced serum cortisol levels – an indicator of stress – in the blood more effectively than listening to classical music. They are also employing SKY to cure alcohol and tobacco addiction.
Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part II—Clinical Applications and Guidelines ( Richard P. Brown, Patricia L. Gerbarg. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. August 1, 2005, 11(4): 711-717. doi:10.1089/acm.2005.11.711.)
Yogic breathing is a unique method for balancing the autonomic nervous system and influencing psychologic and stress-related disorders. Part I of this series presented a neurophysiologic theory of the effects of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY). Part II will review clinical studies, our own clinical observations, and guidelines for the safe and effective use of yoga breath techniques in a wide range of clinical conditions