Saturday, February 9, 2013

Strongest Study Yet Shows Meditation Can Lower Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

A new study from the American Heart Association shows that regular meditation was correlated with a 48% reduced rate of death, heart attack and stroke. Blood pressure was reduced and anger decreased significantly among the meditation group. They also showed a trend towards reduced smoking. "It appears that Transcendental Meditation is a technique that turns on the body’s own pharmacy – to repair and maintain itself." said lead researcher Dr Robert Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Iowa. Dr Schneider added: "Transcendental Meditation may reduce heart disease risks for both healthy people and those with diagnosed heart conditions."

"The research on Transcendental Meditation and cardiovascular disease is established well enough that doctors may safely and routinely prescribe stress reduction for their patients with this easy to implement, standardised and practical programme." The study was funded by the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Studies on the effects of mediation have been done countless times, but this is by far the most prestigious and recognized study to date, proving that simply meditating 20 minutes twice a day can cut your chances of sudden death, heart attack, and stroke in half immediately.

“The main finding [of our research] is that, added on top of usual medical care, intervention with a mind-body technique — transcendental meditation — can have a major effect on cardiovascular events,” says Robert Schneider, lead author on the study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes and a professor at the Maharishi University of Management, an institution in Iowa that was founded by the creator of transcendental meditation.
He and his colleagues followed 201 African American men and women, who are at higher risk of heart disease than whites, but who also had addition reason to worry about heart attacks and strokes since they were also diagnosed with coronary heart disease. The participants were randomly assigned to participate in either a health education class about heart-friendly diet and exercise, or to attend a transcendental meditation program. Transcendental meditation involves shutting out the outside world and focusing thoughts inward, or resting while remaining alert. All of the participants continued to receive their normal medical care as well, including appropriate medication.

After roughly five years of follow-up, the researchers found a 48% reduction in the overall risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from any cause among members of the meditation group compared to those from the health education group. The meditating group enjoyed an average drop of 4.9 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure compared to the control group and also reported less stress and less anger. “It’s like discovering a whole new class of medications,” Schneider says of the power of meditation in improving the patients’ health.

But while the magnitude of those results is remarkable, the study involved a relatively small number of participants, and did not reveal how meditation may be lowering heart disease risk. On the surface, it's intuitively obvious that stress management can affect heart health for the better; anxiety and stress cause blood pressure to shoot up and leave us on edge, triggering spikes in heart-harming stress hormones like cortisol.

But many experts are skeptical of the alleged benefits of techniques such as transcendental meditation that claim to reduce stress by a substantial amount. In the past, these benefits have been hard to test scientifically, largely because study participants who volunteered for meditation programs may have been biased to see them succeed. Practitioners have also made strong and essentially unsubstantiated claims about the powers of meditation, leading heart experts and scientists to be especially skeptical. In fact, in 2005, more than 500 brain researchers signed a petition (albeit an unsuccessful one) to protest a scheduled lecture on the neuroscience of meditation by the Buddhist spiritual icon, the Dalai Lama, at a major conference organized by the Society for Neuroscience.

The great lengths to which the researchers of the Circulation study went to make their trial scientifically rigorous, however, should reinforce the results in the eyes of some skeptics. The scientists adjusted for the effects of weight, smoking behavior, and diet, all of which can influence heart attack, stroke and early heart death rates. And while the participants in both groups exercised more and cut back on alcohol during the study, they did so at similar rates, making these changes unlikely to be responsible for the differences in health outcomes either.

While the findings aren’t likely to resolve questions over whether meditation should become a standard part of heart disease care, the results should give more doctors confidence in discussing the practice with their patients and giving them some scientifically based information that’s an improvement over the advice that “it can’t hurt to try.”
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