A growing number of Americans are using mind-body therapies like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises, and although such practices are used by millions of patients, they have generally been considered to be on the fringe of mainstream medical care.

New research suggests that attitudes are changing.

In a study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, researchers found that 1 in 30 Americans using mind-body therapies has been referred by a medical provider.

“There’s good evidence to support using mind-body therapies clinically,” said lead author Aditi Nerurkar, M.D., integrative medicine fellow at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Still, we didn’t expect to see provider referral rates that were quite so high.”

Nerurkar and her colleagues collected information from more than 23,000 U.S. households from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, according to a press release. They found that nearly 3 percent, representing more than 6.3 million Americans, used mind-body therapies due to provider referral and that these Americans were sicker and used the health care system more than people who self-referred for mind-body therapies.

“What we learned suggests that providers are referring their patients for mind-body therapies as a last resort once conventional therapeutic options have failed,” said Nerurkar, “It makes us wonder whether referring patients for these therapies earlier in the treatment process could lead to less use of the health care system, and possibly, better outcomes for these patients.”

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