Yoga Shows Highest Growth in Natural Therapy

Yoga soars in popularity, fish oil continues to be widely used among kids and adults.


The number of Americans who practice yoga has nearly doubled in the past decade, according to a new survey from the National Institutes of Health.

The National Health Statistics Report, part of a survey conducted every five years, was authored by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. The 2012 results come from interviews with 88,962 American adults and 17,321 interviews with a knowledgeable adults, often parents, about children ages 4 to 17.

Participants were asked about various natural health products, including acupuncture, chiropractic visits, dietary supplements, massage therapy, meditation and yoga.

Among mind and body practices, massage therapy, progressive relaxation and guided imagery decreased. Acupuncture showed a slight increase, but not as drastic as yoga’s shift.

The percentage of Americans who used natural products shifted very little during the last five years, though many did show a decrease from a decade ago, including echinacea, ginseng and ginkgo. Other than fish oil, melatonin and prebiotics/probiotics were the only supplements assessed that showed a slight increase in use.

During the last decade the number of Americans who report practising yoga has nearly doubled to 21 million while the use of other natural therapies, like supplements and meditation, has remained relatively consistent, a new survey from the National Institutes of Health shows.

The study, released Tuesday, looked at several forms of unconventional medicine, which tend to be used by children and adults who have health problems. Among supplements, there was one exception to the trend: Fish oil held the same top spot in prevalence as it did when the survey was last conducted five years ago but jumped significantly in use since.

“[The survey] helps us understand why Americans turn to these approaches for symptoms management and promotion of health,” Dr. Josephine Briggs, director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at NIH, said in a call with reporters.

She was not surprised by the yoga finding, though she noted that its rise was striking and that people often use it for pain management. The reason for the sharp increase in its popularity was not assessed.

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Yoga is the most common mind and body practice.

The findings will help guide what natural products NIH chooses to study. There is skepticism about whether these therapies work and whether they are safe. They are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the way that prescriptions, food, drinks and medical devices are.

For this reason, patients are encouraged to tell their doctors about what they are taking. “It is important for primary care physicians to ask patients about their use, particularly dietary supplements,” Briggs says.

Some natural products are known to interfere with prescriptions. For example, St. John’s wort, which some people take for depression, has been shown by NIH to interfere with birth control, heart medications, antidepressants and other drugs.

Briggs says the majority of Americans use natural therapies not as an alternative to proven therapies, like prescription drugs, but complementary to them. Often, therapies are used to combat pain, which can be debilitating, interfering with daily life. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.

“It was interesting how many people turn to complementary medicine for management of pain,” Briggs says. “And [to see] the growing interest by Americans in the mind and body approach.”

Overall, the use of complementary medicine is just about as prevalent as it was five years ago. A third of Americans adults and 11 percent of children report using natural therapies to manage their health. Dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals are still the most common approach, but some practices have shifted since the last survey, which was released in 2007. Adults’ use of glucosamine/chondroitin, echinacea, and garlic supplements decreased between 2007 and 2012.

Echinacea in 2007 was the most commonly used product by children. Now, fish oil is more widely used, even though the effect of the supplement has not been thoroughly studied in children.

Studies have been conducted among adults, some of whom take it for heart and mental health because it contains omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil use jumped from 4.8 percent in 2007 to 7.8 percent in 2012, Tainya Clarke, a research fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters during the conference call.

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Fish oil is the most commonly used natural product.

Briggs says the efficacy data is not complete, particularly for mental health conditions. “There are small studies that do seem to show benefits for depression or for cognitive function, but there is no definitive data.”

Among children, the use of melatonin, a sleep aid, increased substantially during the last five years, from 0.1 percent to 0.7 percent.

“ While [the survey] does not assess why shifts in use occur, some of the trends are in line with published research on the efficacy of natural products, ” Briggs said in a statement. ” For example, the use of melatonin, shown in studies to have some benefits for sleep issues, has risen dramatically. Conversely, the use of echinacea has fallen, which may reflect conflicting results from studies on whether it’s helpful for colds. This reaffirms why it is important for NIH to study these products and to provide that information to the public. ”


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