10 Clinical Studies on the Effects of Meditation on Health;

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1) Meditation Increases Your Sense of Well being and Boosts Your immune System.

For thousands of years meditators have been claiming that meditation increases your level of happiness and inner well being but it had never been proven. Only recently have scientist been able to prove it.

In a study published by Psychosomatic Medicine (Davidson et al., 2003) researchers using state of the art brain mapping and MRI technology were able to determine that regular practice of mindfulness meditation activates the left prefrontal cortex of the brain—This is the area of the brain associated with positive emotions. ( Increases serotonin levels)

Research Design: Employees of a biotech company who were taught the technique over an eight week period had significantly greater left –prefrontal activation than a control group. Not only immediately after their training but also four months later. In other words, their overall level of mental and emotional well being increased and remained so for a long time.

Even more surprising, the meditators had stronger immune system than the controls, as measured by the anti bodies produced in response to a flu vaccine—and the greater the left prefrontal activation the greater the boost to the immune system. In simpler terms, meditation brings an overall increased sense of well being and resistance to getting sick.

2) Meditators Have Lower Blood Pressure

It is a well known fact that meditation reduces stress, calms the body and relaxes the mind. (Benson, 1965) Numerous studies have corroborated this finding. The question which researchers needed to know is how does this translate into key physiological markers, such as blood pressure?

Research DesignIn a pioneering published in the British medical journal Lancet (Patel, 1973) 20 hypertension patients were taught yoga, breath meditation, muscle relaxation and meditation concentration. At the end of 12 months their systolic blood pressure had fallen from 159.1 to 138.7 – an average of over 20 points. In another study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (Stone and Deleo, 1976) 14 subjects with moderate hypertension were taught a Buddhist meditation that involved counting their breaths for set periods each day for six months. At the end of this period their systolic blood pressure had dropped an average of 15 points. See also (American Journal of Hypertension Jan. ’05) for a similar study, which corroborated meditation reduces high blood pressure.

Research Results These and other studies showed that meditation by itself or in conjunction with other medications can be a significant alternative to blood pressure medications for people with moderate hypertension— and most importantly with no down side after effects. It also supports the thesis that meditation may help accelerate or increase reduction of blood pressure levels in combination with other forms of therapy.

3) Meditation Reduces Cholesterol Levels

Although it is a well known fact that both diet and heredity certainly play a role in making you more susceptible to elevated cholesterol levels, research has shown that chronic stress plays an important role as well. It would therefore follow logically that practicing a good stress reduction technique like meditation would lower the cholesterol levels. This is exactly what a pioneering study in the Journal of Human Stress (Cooper and Aygen 1979) proved.

Research Design: 23 Subjects with hypercholesterolemia (subjects with very high cholesterol) were divided up into two groups: 12 who practiced TM or transcendental meditation for 13 months and 11 who did not. Paired comparisons showed that the meditators’ cholesterol dropped by as much as 30 points from an average of 254 at the beginning to 225 at the end. By contrast, the control groups’ cholesterol dropped only 5 from 259 to 254 over the same period. Another study, of 40 female medical students who practiced TM and yoga, reported that their average total cholesterol decreased form 196 to 165.

Research Results These results indicate that meditation by itself can significantly alter blood pressure levels. This does not imply that one should immediately drop one’s medication. But it does argue for its use as a complementary form of therapy, which as previously mentioned is risk free, without cost and readily available. Most importantly it points to the fact that the body and mind are inextricably entwined and cannot be thought of as indivisible and non-correlated. It also may point to another less obvious connection and that is that meditation alters the mind body functioning as a whole.

4) Meditation Improves Your Overall Health.

One study which has great practical implications was a study conducted by the Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa. In this study they sought to measure whether TM practitioners spent less time in hospitals and doctors offices than a non-meditating control group.

Research Design: The study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine (Orme-Johnson 1987) compared how often 2000 regular participants in the TM program used medical insurance with how often a group of 600,000 non meditators of the same insurance carrier used their insurance over a five year period. The two groups were quite similar in terms of benefits, deductibles, coinsurance payments and distribution by gender. Yet the TM group used medical insurance less often in all categories –for example, 50 percent fewer inpatient days and 47 percent fewer outpatient visits for children ages 0-18, 51 percent few inpatient days and 47 percent fewer outpatient visits for young adults 19-39 and 69.4 percent fewer inpatient days and 73.7 percent fewer outpatient visits for older adults (over 40years old).

Research Results Even after factoring in the likelihood that the TM practitioners ate better, smoked less, exercised more and favored uninsured alternative medical techniques the evidence points to the general likelihood that meditators in general will have better health than non meditators. In every major medical treatment category, including cancer, infectious disease, and mental illness, hospital admissions for the TM group were lower than the norm.

5) Meditation Helps Reverse Heart Disease.

The most dramatic and persuasive study of the health benefits of meditation and related lifestyle changes appeared in 1998 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This ground breaking study landed its lead author Dr. Dean Ornish, on the cover of Newsweek and finally established an unarguable link between meditation and heart health. The researchers found that meditation, coupled with low fat, whole-foods vegetarian diet, aerobic exercise; smoking cessation; and group support; not only lowers your risk of “cardiac events” but can actually reverse the ravages of coronary artery disease, the primary cause of heart attacks.

Research Design: The study followed 20 men and women with moderate to severe heart disease that made and maintained intensive lifestyle changes, including regular meditation practice, for 5 years. Compared with a control group that made no lifestyle changes, these patients experienced half the number of cardiac events. Even more impressive, their coronary arteries became progressively less obstructed, whereas those of the control group got progressively worse.

Research Results Dr. Ornish’s findings spurred a major change in the health care industry. HMOS and hospitals nationwide began adopting his Lifestyle Modification Program. At the core of his approach is the insight that love is the ultimate healer. “If you want to heal your heart.” he writes, “you have to open your heart.”

6) Meditation Makes you More Empathic and Compassionate

While most meditators would agree that their practice helps them tune into the feelings of others and actually makes you more empathic this study actually proved it.

In a study reported in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (Lesh, 1970) one researcher investigated the relationship between Zen Meditation and the development of empathy in counselors, using psychologist Carol Rogers’ characterization of empathy as both the capacity to sense what the client is feeling and the ability to communicate this sensitivity at a level attuned to the client’s emotional state. One group of 16 students was taught zazen; another group of 12 students volunteered to learn zazen but was not actually taught; and a third group consisted of 11 students who were opposed to learning meditation. All subjects were tested before the experiment and then again 4 weeks later.

Research Results: What the study showed was the group that practiced zazen did improve significantly in empathic ability, while the two other groups did not. The results indicated that those who started out least empathic and those who were most “open to experience” improved the most.

7) Meditators Live Longer and Age Better

A study conducted by the TM movement which were reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Alexander et al., 1989) found that older people who practiced meditation had improved cognitive and behavioral abilities and lived longer than those who did not.

This study suggests that if you meditate you will live longer, your mind will stay sharper and you’ll be less prone to depression and other mental health problems. A similar study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, (May ’05) also found that meditation extends the life of those who meditate regularly.

8) Mindfulness Speeds the Healing of Psoriasis

Another study conducted by the University of Mass. Medical Center found that meditation could significantly alter and reduce the effect of stress related ailments like psoriasis. In a 1998 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn best selling author and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and his colleagues took 37 psoriasis patients who were about to undergo light treatment for their condition and randomly assigned them to one of two situations; a mindfulness meditation –based stress reduction intervention during treatments or a light treatment alone.

Research Results The results were testimony to the potential value of meditation as an adjunct to just about any treatment regime; the patients who meditated not only responded better to light treatment than to the non–meditating group but their psoriasis cleared up four times faster.

9) Meditation is a Powerful Mood Enhancer

Several studies found that meditation boosts the body’s natural concentration of phenylalanine—as well as serotonin both associated with enhancing production of the neurotransmitter that keep us happy.

In a study published in The Journal of Physiology and Behavior (Jevning et al., 1977), researchers measured amino acid levels in 28 subjects 15 of whom had practiced TM regularly for three to five years. During meditation, phenylalanine levels in the TM group rose an amazing 23 percent, compared with no change during relaxation for the control group. The good news is we have within us our own little sanctuary of peace which can produce happiness at our pleasure. Peace and happiness is an inside job for meditators.

10) Meditation Relives Pain

One of the best documented clinical uses of meditation is the application of mindfulness meditation for the alleviation of chronic pain. During the 1980′s Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues published several studies proving its effectiveness.

According to a report in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine (Kaba-Zinn et al., 1985) 90 chronic–pain patients who were trained in mindfulness meditation in a 10 week stress reduction and relaxation program experienced significant reductions in present moment pain, negative body image and the inhibition of activity. Not only that, they popped fewer pain pills and felt better about themselves except present moment pain, and the majority continued to meditate— not a surprising finding, given that chronic pain can be one of the most debilitating conditions imaginable and one of the most difficult to treat.

One lesson can we draw from this study: If you suffer from chronic pain mindfulness meditation should be one of first alternative treatment options you try. A similar study published in the American Journal of Hypertension Jan.’ 05 found that meditation helped reduce the need for the use of Hypertension Drugs.

Overall Health benefits:

  • Strengthens immune system
  • Reduces cholesterol levels.
  • Lowers Blood pressure
  • Reduces Cholesterol levels and decreases muscle tension
  • Increasing Empathy and well being; increases serotonin production (low serotonin levels are associated with depression and anxiety)
  • Retards aging process, increase cognitive awareness
  • Helps with many stress related illnesses psoriasis, arthritis, asthma
  • Mood Enhancer and produces sense of happiness
  • Relieves chronic pain
  • Improves overall health

Sources: Most of this has been adapted from Meditation for Dummies by Stephen Bodian (Wiley Publishing, Inc. Hoboken, New Jersey 2006 pg. 315 -321)

Ian Dunlop’s article Nov 2012
Leadership Institute Attention Meditation article
Leadership Institute Mindful Practice article
leadership Institute Mindfulness in Medicine article
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Meditation as a Healing Therapy for Clinical and Personal Use in the 21st Century