Mindful meditation as good as some antidepressants

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Meditation
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A new analysis from Johns Hopkins researchers shows mindful meditation for 30 to 40 minutes a day could ease symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as some medications. Compared to drug therapy to lower stress, meditation is harmless, the study authors point out.

In the new review, the researchers found meditation - in the absence of "full-blown" anxiety and depression could help ease chronic pain from fibromyalgia, help patients with diabetes and even give a boost to overcoming substance abuse.

Madhav Goyal, MD, an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of a study published online Jan. 6 in JAMA Internal Medicine said in a press release: "meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants."

Mindful meditation offers more than a placebo affect

Meditation has still not found its way into mainstream medical therapy, despite past studies showing the benefits.

In their review, the researchers found mindful meditation, an ancient Buddhist practice that focuses the mind, provided stress reduction even for people not receiving medical treatment for their health condition.

The good news is anyone can learn to meditate. Mindfulness simply means focusing on what you are doing in the moment.

"A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” Goyal says. “But that's not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”

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As a note, meditation can even be performed when walking. Prayer that is repetitive, such as reciting the rosary, can also be a form of meditation, which may be why studies have found prayer to be helpful for helping people cope with chronic health conditions.

Goyal and colleagues found the most promising form of meditation to be mindfulness that teaches us to relax and remain non-judgmental about what is going on with our feelings and thoughts. Past studies have found the practice may help with chronic pain because it changes how we perceive pain.

The study

For their review, the researchers focused on 47 clinical trials that included 3,515 participants who typically underwent an 8-week meditation program.

The investigators found "low evidence" that meditation helps ease stress and improves quality of life, though the benefits improved over time. The study participants were followed for six months.

“Meditation programs appear to have an effect above and beyond the placebo,” Goyal says, but he cautions that the studies had some possible weaknesses. More research would be needed to uncover which outcomes are most affected by the practice.

Mindful meditation has also been suggested as a way to help with weight loss that may be also worth exploring.

Other conditions that mindful meditation may help include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), multiple sclerosis, memory loss.rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure, based on past studies, but not highlighted in the current review. The study authors recommend that health care providers be aware of meditation's benefits and talk with patients about programs.

Related:
Ten reasons to start meditating today
Music for meditation
Short periods of meditation eases pain

Image credit: Pixabay

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