Numerous chronic conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma, involve painful symptoms related to chronic inflammation. A study just released by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center found that mindfulness meditation reduces stress, which can exacerbate symptoms in these types of conditions. But here’s the big news: the research also revealed that meditation can reduce inflammation itself. And this is clearly important information for the countless people who can’t take, or don’t want to rely on, Big Pharma’s side-effect laden anti-inflammatory drugs.
Centered around focusing attention on the breath, physical sensations and mental content while seated, walking or practicing yoga, mindfulness meditation has been long recognized as a stress reliever. The new study aimed to see if meditation truly is what causes the stress busting benefits or whether the social interaction of meditating with a group or learning a new skill or engaging in a regular physical activity like yoga produced the benefit. So researchers set out to compare a mindfulness meditation program to another program (which consisted of nutritional education, physical activity such as walking, balance and core strengthening exercises and music therapy) designed to enhance health but not related to mindfulness.
“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,” scientist Melissa Rosenkranz, lead author of the paper, which was published recently in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, said in a media statement.
Both groups had the same amount of training and they also had instructors with the same expertise. The research subjects in both groups were also required to do the same amount of home practice. The results? There were beneficial changes that were specific to the group that was meditating. Incredibly, those changes included a physiological lessening of inflammation.
Here’s how the scientists reached that conclusion. They used a tool called the Trier Social Stress Test to induce psychological stress and a capsaicin cream to produce inflammation on the skin of the research volunteers. Immune and endocrine measures were collected before and after the research subjects went through training in meditation or in the other health enhancing activities. While both groups found their stress was reduced, the mindfulness-based meditation approach was also effective at reducing inflammation.
“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,” Rosenkranz explained in the media statement.
The researchers noted that the fact mindfulness meditation reduces inflammation could be especially important because “significant portions of the population do not benefit from available pharmaceutical treatment options, for example. Some of these patients suffer from negative side effects of the drugs, or simply do not respond to the standard-of-care for treatment of the disorder… 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.”
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