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Yoga may relieve asthma symptoms and boost quality of life

But not clear if it aids lung function or curbs use of medicines, finds Cochrane review

Caroline White

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Yoga may help to relieve asthma symptoms and boost the quality of life of those with the condition, but it’s not clear if it aids lung function and curbs medication use, finds a Cochrane Review,* published in the Cochrane Library today.

Yoga has gained in global popularity as a form of exercise that is linked to general lifestyle benefits, and recent studies have looked at its potential to relieve asthma symptoms and related problems. Asthma affects around 300 million people worldwide.

The review summarised the results of 15 randomised controlled trials, involving over 1,000 men and women, to see if yoga had any impact on asthma. Most of the trials were conducted in India, followed by Europe and the United States.

Most of the study participants had mild to moderate asthma for periods ranging from six months to more than 20 years. Six studies looked at the effects of breathing during yoga exercise; the others assessed the effects of breathing, posture, and meditation.

Most people continued to take their usual asthma medication while participating in the studies. The studies lasted from two weeks to over four years.

The researchers found some moderate quality evidence from five studies that yoga reduces the impact of asthma on people’s quality of life. But the evidence for yoga’s impact on lung function was mixed. The effects of yoga on medication use and any side-effects of yoga are also unclear, because only a few very small studies reported on these outcomes.

The researchers concluded that practising yoga might boost quality of life among people with asthma and relieve symptoms, to some extent. But better quality studies with more participants would be needed before any firm conclusions could be drawn.

Lead author, Dr Zuyao Yang from the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, commented: “Our findings suggest that yoga exercise may lead to small improvements in asthma quality of life and symptoms. However, it is unclear whether yoga has a consistent impact on lung function and we don’t yet know if yoga can reduce people’s medication usage, or if there are any side-effects of yoga for people with asthma.”

Deputy Co-ordinating Editor of the Cochrane Airways Group, Rebecca Normansell, added: “At present, we just don’t have enough high quality evidence to determine the effects of yoga as a type of exercise for helping people manage their asthma. Because there is uncertainty about the effects of yoga on lung function and use of asthma medication, it’s important that people with asthma continue to take their medication, as prescribed."

* Yang Z-Y, et al. Yoga for asthma. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD010346. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010346.pub2

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