Photo of a woman meditating
Compared to a regime of exercise and music therapy, mindfulness meditation is better at relieving stress and the inflammation that it can cause

Try mindfulness meditation to reduce chronic inflammation

1 February, 2013

Natural Health News — People suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma – in which psychological stress plays a major role –may benefit from mindfulness meditation techniques.

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.

Writing in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, say they wanted to find out whether other similar health interventions would work just as well. So they compared two methods of reducing stress: a mindfulness meditation-based approach, and a program designed to enhance health in ways unrelated to mindfulness.

Comparing different approaches

A class in stress reduction can be beneficial in many ways, some of which have little to do with mindfulness, according to lead author Melissa Rosenkranz.  For example, learning to manage stress by engaging in regular physical activity may be therapeutic.

To find out which aspects of mindfulness meditation were most effective, the scientists devised an intervention that was, in their words, ‘structurally similar’ similar.

This involved a mixture of  nutritional education, physical activity, such as walking, balance, agility and core strengthening, and music therapy.

It was structurally similar to meditation in that, 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 by participants.

Mindfulness is more effective

Outcomes were measured subjectively via stress tests as well as objectively via biological ones, using specific measurements of inflammation, immune and endocrine activity.

While both methods were effective in reducing stress and emotional reactivity, the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach was more effective at reducing the kind stress-related symptoms that people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions experience.

Rosenkranz emphasises that the mindfulness-based approach is not a magic bullet. But, she says “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.”

“The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment, and it can be practised easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need,” she adds.