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Meditation May Help Ease Symptoms From Gastrointestinal Problems

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While meditation is good for relieving stress and other psychological conditions, it is also an effective means of easing away symptoms that arise from gastrointestinal disorders.

Researchers from two Harvard affiliates found that through a training program completed by participants in nine weeks, the elicitation of relaxation responses, irritable bowels syndrome (IBS), along with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) the inflammation-related expression of genes and bodily responses to stress pose significant clinical benefits.

The Massachusetts General Hospital's (MGH) Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) conducted a pilot study and published findings about relaxation responses to gastrointestinal disorders, in the online journal PLOS ONE.

According to Braden Kuo from the MGH Department of Medicine's gastrointestinal unit, there have been several studies that found stress managements techniques and psychological interventions to be helpful to patients suffering from IBS, but on a short-term basis. For IBD, some studies found potential benefits.

"Our results suggest exciting possibilities for further developing and implementing this treatment in a wider group of patients with gastrointestinal illnesses," added Kuo, who also co-authored the study. Crucial to their study is the demonstration of the impact of mind-and-body intervention on genes that control inflammatory factors known to play a big role in IBD and possibly, IBS.

In the experiment, the researchers assessed 48 participants, of whom 19 were previously diagnosed with IBS, and 29 with IBD. These participants took part in a nine-week program among a group that focused on reducing stress cognitive skills and behaviors enhancing the health. The participants were assessed at the start, in the middle, at the end and three weeks after the nine-week program.

Each participant was asked to practice relaxation exercises at home for 15 to 20 minutes each day of the week for nine weeks.

Using standardized tools, the researchers measured symptoms that were common to both IBS and IBD, with highlighting pain and the disorders' effects to the quality of the lives of the participants. At baseline and a week after the conclusions were made, the researchers also took blood samples from the patients for profiling gene expression and the measurement of inflammatory factors.

Results of the study found disease-related symptoms, anxiety and quality of life in general to have improved in the participants who completed the mandatory program; this continued even after the end of the program. No changes were seen in inflammatory markers, but altered expressions were found in more or less 200 genes. According to the researchers, several genes with altered expressions contribute to pathways involving stress response and inflammation. 

Photo: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious | Flickr

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