While interest in mindfulness meditation as a stress reliever has grown through the years, there’s been little evidence to support that it helps those suffering from chronic inflammation conditions in which psychological stress plays a significant role.
A new study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists suggests that mindfulness meditation techniques help people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction, originally designed for patients with chronic pain, consists of continuously focusing attention on the breath, bodily sensations and mental content while seated, walking or practicing yoga.
The study by University of Wisconsin neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center was the first designed to control for other therapeutic mechanisms, such as supportive social interaction, expert instruction or learning new skills, according to a university news release.
The mindfulness-based approach is not a magic bullet, said Melissa Rosenkranz, assistant scientist at the center and lead author of the paper, which was published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
But the study does show that there are ways that mindfulness can be beneficial, and that some people may be more likely to benefit from this approach than other interventions, she said.
Significant portions of the population do not benefit from available pharmaceutical treatments, for example.
“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.
The study compared two methods of reducing stress: a mindfulness meditation-based approach and a program designed to enhance health in ways unrelated to mindfulness.
According to the news release:
The comparison group participated in the Health Enhancement Program, which consisted of nutritional education; physical activity, such as walking; balance, agility and core strengthening; and music therapy. The content of the program was meant to match aspects of the mindfulness instruction in some way. For example, physical exercise was meant to match walking meditation, without the mindfulness component. Both groups had the same amount of training, the same level of expertise in the instructors, and the same amount of home practice required of participants.
Using a tool called the Trier Social Stress Test to induce psychological stress and a capsaicin cream to produce inflammation on the skin, immune and endocrine measures were collected before and after training in the two methods. While both techniques were proven effective in reducing stress, the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach was more effective at reducing stress-induced inflammation.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel