Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Meditation may carry with it the connotations of otherworldly mysticism, high-minded elitism, or a discipline of the slightly aloof, but studies have also shown that it can convey real-world benefits for personal health.
According to a new study in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, so-called “mindfulness” meditation techniques can provide relief for those with chronic inflammatory conditions–such as rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel disease, or asthma.
The mindfulness-based stress reduction meditation program was originally designed to help those with chronic pain conditions. The series of techniques involves a person continuously staying focused on their breath, bodily sensations and mental content while seated, walking or performing yoga.
In the study, a team of American researchers compared two intervention approaches to treating stress-induced inflammation: a mindfulness-based health regimen and a similar program without the mindfulness element.
“We wanted to develop an intervention that was meant to produce positive change and compare the mindfulness approach to an intervention that was structurally equivalent,” said lead author Melissa Rosenkranz, a brain imaging scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
While one group participated in the mindfulness-based stress reduction, the other group participated in a Health Enhancement Program, involving nutritional education, light physical activity, and music therapy. The latter program was meant to match the former, but without the mindfulness element.
“In this setting, we could see if there were changes that we could detect that were specific to mindfulness,” Rosenkranz said.
After completing eight weekly two hour and 30 minute sessions, one full-day session, and daily home sessions that lasted just under an hour, both groups were tested to see how they responded to stress-induced inflammation.
Using the Trier Social Stress Test method to induce stress through psychological and mental stressors, and a capsaicin cream to produce inflammation on the skin–saliva and endocrine samples were collected both before and after the two health regimens. An analysis of these samples showed that both techniques were effective in reducing stress, yet the mindfulness-based stress reduction program was determined to be much more effective at combating stress-induced inflammation.
The results suggest that the mindfulness program could be a more effective approach to treating chronic inflammation conditions. However, Rosenkranz said that the program´s effectiveness could vary from person to person and should only be considered as one weapon in the battle against a chronic inflammatory condition.
“This is not a cure-all, but our study does show that there are specific ways that mindfulness can be beneficial, and that there are specific people who may be more likely to benefit from this approach than other interventions,” she said.
For example, some chronic inflammation sufferers see little or no benefit from pharmaceutical drugs. These patients could be the perfect candidates for a different type of treatment program.
“The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment, and it can be practiced easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need,” Rosenkranz said.
In their conclusion, the researchers noted that the study´s participants were relatively healthy and the results could be different for populations currently experiencing chronic stress-related inflammation.