Meditation isn’t something we normally cover here at MDA, but we’re always looking for easy, safe and affordable ways to enhance total health. With that in mind, a meta-analysis out of the University of Kentucky caught our attention recently and got us pondering the meditation question.
The meta-analysis evaluated nine randomized, controlled trials using Transcendental Meditation as a primary intervention for hypertensive patients. The practice of Transcendental Meditation was associated with approximate reductions of 4.7 mm systolic blood pressure and 3.2 mm diastolic blood pressure. The study’s lead author, Dr. James W. Anderson, professor of medicine at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, said that blood pressure reductions of this magnitude would be expected to be accompanied by significant reductions in risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease—without drug side effects.
As we’ve said before, a meta-analysis isn’t a study in itself. Because nothing new is being tested, a meta-analysis often doesn’t garner the same attention or fanfare. However, a meta-analysis can be especially useful for an area that claims a great number of studies but includes few that are well conducted and deemed reliable. The water can at least be made a little less muddy as researchers hone in on the studies that can truly tell us the most. In this case, researchers at the University found nine studies that met their eligibility requirements, although study quality still ranged considerably.
Still, with an enormous hypertension rate (1 out of 3 adults in this country), it’s good to see some investigation of alternative, cheap, and side effect free therapies. Now, frankly, we could use more of it.
While this study highlighted the effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation, other forms of meditation have been linked to positive results as well. A collaborative study involving researchers from Harvard, Yale, MIT, and Massachusetts General Hospital used magnetic resonance imaging to measure relative differences in cortical thickness between twenty well trained Buddhist Insight meditators and matched controls. Based on their assessment, meditation was associated with thicker measurements of the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula regions. The differences between the groups were most dramatic in the older subjects. Researchers used this finding to suggest the possibility that “meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning.”
Clearly, there’s a long way to go in researching the effectiveness of meditation practices. Yet, the picture looks very promising, and the proposed benefits are impressive: decreased blood pressure, lower stress response, relief or reduction in chronic pain, stronger immune function, enhanced concentration, improved sleep quality, and more. If meditation can be an effective addition to healthy lifestyle changes, consider the overall difference that could be made in the lives and well-being of millions of people every year. We agree that there’s more to be done, more to be studied and scrutinized, but looking at these possibilities, it’s hard not to wonder why we aren’t doing more to research and apply these therapies for the people who could potentially use them the most.