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Meditation can help symptoms of anxiety, depression, study finds

Thursday January 9, 2014
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About 30 minutes of meditation daily may improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to an analysis of previously published research.

“A lot of people use meditation, but it’s not a practice considered part of mainstream medical therapy for anything,” Madhav Goyal, MD, MPH, an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said in a news release.

“But in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants.” These patients did not typically have full-blown anxiety or depression, the researchers noted.

As published Jan. 6 on the website of JAMA Internal Medicine, the researchers evaluated the degree to which those symptoms changed in people who had a variety of medical conditions, such as insomnia or fibromyalgia, although only a minority had been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Goyal and his colleagues found that so-called “mindfulness meditation” — a form of Buddhist self-awareness designed to focus precise, nonjudgmental attention to the moment at hand — also showed promise in alleviating some pain symptoms as well as stress. The findings held even when the researchers controlled for the possibility of a placebo effect.

To conduct their review, the investigators focused on 47 clinical trials performed through June 2013 among 3,515 participants that involved meditation and various mental and physical health issues, including depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, substance use, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and chronic pain.

They found moderate evidence of improvement in symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain after participants underwent what was typically an eight-week training program in mindfulness meditation. They discovered low evidence of improvement in stress and quality of life. There was not enough information to determine whether other areas could be improved by meditation.

In the studies that followed participants for six months, the improvements typically continued. The researchers found no evidence that harm came from meditation.

Meditation, Goyal noted, has a long history in Eastern traditions and has been growing in popularity over the last 30 years in Western culture. Mindfulness meditation, the type that showed the most promise, is typically practiced for 30 to 40 minutes a day. It emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of body and mind.

Goyal cautioned that the literature reviewed in the study contained potential weaknesses. Further studies are needed to clarify which outcomes are most affected by these meditation programs, as well as whether more meditation practice would have greater effects.

“Meditation programs appear to have an effect above and beyond the placebo,” Goyal concluded.

The research was supported by a contract from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Study abstract: http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1809754


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