Practicing transcendental meditation may help active-duty soldiers significantly reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, a new study suggests.
By reducing the symptoms, soldiers also can reduce their need for medications, the researchers say.
"Regular practice of transcendental meditation provides a habit of calming down and healing the brain," says study lead author Vernon Barnes, a physiologist with the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.
Transcendental meditation can take those who practice it from a state of active thinking to a level of inner quietness that reduces levels of stress hormones, says Barnes, who recommends twice daily 20-minute sessions of meditation.
To study the possible benefits, the researchers worked with 74 active-duty service members with PTSD or anxiety disorder seeking treatment at the Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center's Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at Fort Gordon, Ga.
Many of them served in multiple deployments over a number of years, the researchers note.
For the study, which was published in the journal Military Medicine, half of the service members volunteered to regularly practice transcendental meditation in addition to their other therapies, while the other half did not.
One month into the study, 83.7 percent of those who were meditating had stabilized, reduced or even stopped their use of psychotropic drugs to treat their conditions, the researchers found.
That compared with just the 59.4 percent of those not meditating who were able to stabilize, reduce or drop their drugs, they say.
Eisenhower Army Medical Center is one of the first facilities to study the use of transcendental meditation in active duty personnel, although the practice has been widely utilized when working with veterans.
A hyperactive state brought on by PTSD can leave those with the condition irritable, on edge, anxious and prone to overreacting to normal external occurrences, researchers explain.
Memory problems also arise because sufferers have difficulty concentrating, they say.
Post-traumatic stress disorder has been diagnosed in around 13 percent of U.S. troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Psychotropic medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs have a response rate of only around 30 percent, the researchers say.
Soldiers in the study who practiced transcendental meditation reported they slept better, felt less irritable, and their relationships with family, friends and loved ones were improving, the study found.
Although some service members expressed skepticism when transcendental meditation was introduced at the Eisenhower Center in early 2012, the clinic now has a waiting list for the course where the technique's origin and benefits are introduced, the researchers say.