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Yoga Almost as Good as Medication for Depression, ADHD: Study Says

Update Date: Jan 25, 2013 07:41 AM EST

Yoga can help people cope with symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and depression, even when they weren't using any medication for the condition, says a new study review. The research also found positive effects of yoga on people suffering from sleep disorders and schizophrenia.

Yoga is one of the top 10 complementary health practices used by Americans. About 6 percent of the U.S. population reported that they practiced yoga in the previous 12 months, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Although there are many types of yoga, "hatha yoga" is the most commonly used yoga in the country.

"However, yoga has become such a cultural phenomenon that it has become difficult for physicians and patients to differentiate legitimate claims from hype. Our goal was to examine whether the evidence matched the promise," the authors wrote.

The study review, based on more than 100 studies done on the subject, found that yoga affects the body in similar ways as antidepressants and psychotherapy.

Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University Medical Center, said that the ancient Indian practice may not only help people cope with the symptoms, but also may have an "ancillary role in the prevention of stress-related mental illnesses."

About 350 million people in the world suffer from depression, according to data from the World Health Organization. And, although there are several medications to treat the condition, these are expensive and sometimes can cause resistance, meaning that the patient no longer responds to the treatment. Thus, there is an urgent requirement for treatments that are safe and cost-effective.

Yoga could be an answer to all these problems, researchers said.

"If the promise of yoga on mental health was found in a drug, it would be the best selling medication world-wide," Doraiswamy added, according to a news release.

Although the present study review has shown that yoga can be an effective tool against mental disorders, researchers say that they can't give conclusive results, as the studies reviewed were based on a small sample size. More work on this subject will lead to better understanding of the effects of yoga on human health, they added.

The study review is published in the Frontiers in Psychiatry.

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