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Quality studies could push yoga into mainstream medical care

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Yoga could help treat a variety of illnesses. Researchers call for quality studies.

Johns Hopkins and Harvard researchers recently reviewed yoga benefits for treating a variety of diseases. The results suggest more studies are needed to push yoga into mainstream medicine as an alternative therapy that could help treat respiratory and mental illnesses and cardiovascular disease.


ue/sAn analysis of published clinical trials showed there has been a 3-fold increase in studies related to yoga therapy, published from 1996 to 2013.

Findings published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggest practicing yoga could have many health benefits, but quality, controlled studies are needed.

The study authors write: "In light of the growing interest in the therapeutic benefits and cost-effectiveness of yoga for prevention and alleviation of symptoms related to disease, the need for more evidence has never been more pressing."

The researcher team explored all styles of yoga and yoga based techniques, concentrating on management of mental illness and heart related and respiratory ailments.

Yoga therapy studies sharply increased between 2009 and 20013, almost tripling from previous years, conducted in all parts of the world, with India accounting for almost fifty-percent of publications.

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Key findings from the study authors include:

  • Yoga studies in India were difficult to access and evaluate for adherence to reporting standards, bias and overall validity.
  • Sixty-five percent of studies included 50 participants or less. The study authors acknowledge limitations in conducting yoga therapy research from lack of funding, time and difficulty finding participants.
  • Good quality studies that were reviewed. showed consistently positive results for yoga therapy as a treatment for depression and cardiovascular disease.

A review of yoga for treating respiratory disorders showed the ancient practice could possibly help people with asthma, combined with usual medical care, but more studies are needed.

Little information was available for yoga therapy as treatment for musckuloskeletal disorders, despite widespread attention given to yoga for treating low back pain.

Yoga study challenges

"Despite the promising increase in yoga publications in the last decade, the research field faces a formidable challenge. Good study design dictates the use of a standardized yoga protocol for the treatment arm in an RCT to determine efficacy/effectiveness and in most cases is applied to a homogenous study population, limiting generalizability to the population at large."

What types of diseases yoga could treat remains an open question. The Harvard and Johns Hopkins researchers suggest the need for quality studies that would "effect changes in health care policy." Based on their review,yoga might help treat a variety of health conditions.

Jeter Pamela E., Slutsky Jeremiah, Singh Nilkamal, and Khalsa Sat Bir S.. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. -Not available-, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/acm.2015.0057.