April 02, 2011

April 2, 2011 (New Orleans, LA) – Taking a 45-minute yoga class three times a week was associated with a halving of episodes of atrial fibrillation (AF) in a new small study.

The study, presented today at the opening press conference of the American College of Cardiology 2011 Scientific Sessions , was conducted by a team led by Dr Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy (University of Kansas Hospital, Kansas City).

He said he started the study after a patient had reported a great improvement in her AF after having started practicing yoga. For the study, 49 patients with paroxysmal AF underwent a three-month control phase in which they could engage in any type of physical activity they were previously accustomed to doing. They then underwent a three-month study phase where they participated in a supervised yoga program consisting of breathing exercises, yoga postures, meditation, and relaxation. They were also encouraged to practice the exercises at home on a daily basis. All participants were new to the practice of yoga, and the program was designed to allow beginners to progress safely from basic movements to more advanced practice over the course of the study.

Results showed that during the yoga-intervention phase, the number of episodes of AF was significantly reduced--from a mean of 3.8 to 2.1. The number of phantom episodes was also reduced, from a mean of 2.6 to 1.4. In addition, 22% of patients did not have any AF episodes during the yoga phase.

Lakkireddy reported that there was also a "drastic" improvement in quality of life, with significant reductions in anxiety and depression scores.

He said: "It appears yoga has a significant impact on helping to regulate patients' heartbeat and improves their overall quality of life. Any intervention that helps in reducing or controlling the arrhythmia burden in atrial fibrillation can have a huge impact on public health."

He recommended that yoga be used as a supplemental therapy in AF. "I am not suggesting that patients should stop taking their medication, but if used as a supplement to medication, yoga could really make a dramatic difference," he added. He also stressed that yoga cannot prevent stroke, and patients definitely need to continue on their anticoagulant treatment.

He said he did not know how the yoga was working but suggested that it might prevent the peaks in sympathetic and parasympathetic tone that precede AF episodes. "It looks as if yoga is reducing the triggers of AF, but we would like to do more studies to look into the mechanisms further," Lakkireddy added. He suggested that yoga may also bring about this effect by reducing systemic inflammation and endothelial dysfunction.

He commented to heartwire : "Yoga also helps reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress, so it is a comprehensive lifestyle change that can have a broad effect."

Asked if clinical recommendations could be made on the basis of a 49-patient study, Lakkireddy said: "We're not claiming yoga fixes everything in AF, and we are advising patients to continue taking their medication, but we have shown some impressive effects. Everything has to start somewhere."