Leading cardiologists, including Dean Ornish, MD, have helped increase the popularity of yoga by touting its ability to assist in preventing and managing heart disease. Now investigators at the Center for the Study of Complementary and Alternative Therapies at the University of Virginia Health Systems in Charlottesville, Virginia, have conducted a research review to evaluate the evidence that might support this perception. Results show that although the number of studies is increasing, a body of rigorous studies meeting the criteria for double-blinded, randomized, controlled clinical trials is still lacking. Reviewers found 70 studies, but only 22 randomized, controlled trials.

The news so far, however, is good. The study results are positive and suggest that yoga may improve many risk factors for heart disease—including glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, cholesterol levels, body composition, blood pressure, and functioning of the autonomic nervous system. Study authors recommend more high-quality studies to confirm the effects of standardized yoga programs on specific risk factors. The review was published in The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice (2005, 18 [6], 491–519).