January 7, 2014
Study Suggests Meditation May Lead To Relief From Depression, Pain
Gerard LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A new study from Johns Hopkins University suggests that mindfulness meditation can improve anxiety and depression along with reducing pain.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, included 47 different trials involving 3,515 different people. Results showed that the meditation had small but positive effects on pain, anxiety and depression.
“Anxiety, depression, and stress/distress are different components of negative affect. When we combined each component of negative affect, we saw a small and consistent signal that any domain of negative affect is improved in mindfulness programs when compared with a nonspecific active control,” wrote the researchers, as cited by HuffPost.
In an email to Reuters Health, study lead author Dr. Madhav Goyal wrote, “Many people have the idea that meditation means just sitting quietly and doing nothing. That is not true. It is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”
Results from the study indicated that people who did mindfulness meditation had a five to ten percent improvement in anxiety symptoms and ten to twenty percent improvement in depression symptoms over people who participated in other activities.
Some studies review the potential harm of mindfulness meditation, but in nine of the included trials, no harmful effects of any kind were reported.
There are differences between mantra meditation and mindfulness meditation. Mantra meditation focuses on a particular word or sound, whereas mindfulness meditation involves paying attention to whatever enters the mind without becoming too focused on it.
Mantra meditation programs involve “use of a mantra in such a way that it transcends one to an effortless state where focused attention is absent.” Programs such as these seem to show no particular health benefits, although the researchers noted that very few studies meet their criteria to be included in the review.
“This lack significantly limited our ability to draw inferences about the effects of mantra meditation programs on psychological stress-related outcomes, which did not change when we evaluated transcendental meditation separately from other mantra training,” they wrote.
The researchers believe more studies need to be done on meditation to attain results on the health benefits of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation takes time to acquire the skill and it is presumed that the longer you do it the greater the benefits you will gain.
In the same journal, Dr. Allan H. Goroll, MD, from Harvard Medical School, published an article stating that most of the studies were less than 12 months long so, “longer study duration will be needed to address the question of maximum efficacy.”
“Nonetheless, the small but potentially meaningful reductions in the distress of anxiety and depression associated with limited-term mindfulness programs argue for consideration of their use as a means of moderating the need for psychopharmacologic intervention in these conditions,” he added.
Goroll also noted that some of the studies found no benefit, but the desire to control anxiety is a reason why mindfulness meditation is becoming popular today.
He concurred that more studies are needed because people make treatment decisions on what they believe instead of data.
“That is particularly the case with alternative and complimentary approaches to treating medical problems. It ranges from taking vitamins to undergoing particular procedures for which the scientific evidence is very slim but people's beliefs are very great,” Goroll concluded.
Roughly nine percent of the people in the US reported some type of meditation in 2007, and one percent said they used it as a form of treatment or medicine.
The study included randomly assigning people who had a certain condition like anxiety, pain or depression to do meditation. The people were found through several electronic databases that catalog medical research.
Goyal suggested that meditation was not created for treating health conditions, “Rather, it is a path we travel on to increase our awareness and gain insight into our lives. The best reason to meditate is to gain this insight. Improvements in health conditions are really a side benefit, and it's best to think of them that way."