The practice of mindfulness meditation has become increasingly popular in treating anxiety, and a new clinical trial backed by the National Institutes of Health offers new evidence that it can indeed offer benefits to anxiety disorder patients.
Working with 89 patients of anxiety disorders, researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center found that those who took the meditation classes sharply reduced their stress hormone and inflammatory responses to stressful situations, compared to those who took a non-meditation course who had worsened responses.
"[These] findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress," said lead author and associate professor Dr. Elizabeth A. Hoge in a statement, touting mindfulness meditation training as a relatively inexpensive, low-stigma therapy.
Meditation vs. Non-Meditation Training
Hoge pointed to “some real skepticism” in the medical community about the meditation practice, so her team sought to find out if it merely made people feel better or are there real and measurable changes in stress markers in the body.
The team randomly divided the patients into two: one group that took eight weeks of mindfulness training to reduce stress, and a control group that took stress management education for the same time period. The two courses had similar format, but only the first one promoted meditative methods, and the participants had “little or no expectancy bias” since they weren’t told which treatment was of interest to the researchers.
The patient then underwent the Trier Social Stress Test, where the team tracked blood-based stress response markers, specifically levels of the stress hormone ACTH and inflammatory proteins IL-6 and TNF-α.
The meditation patients demonstrated “big drops” in stress markers, while those from the other group showed modest increases that suggested a worsening of their anxiety due to having to endure tests for the second time. The first group also fared better in self-reported stress measures after the course.
The team, discussing their findings in the journal Psychiatry Research, hopes to expand the research to other psychiatric disorders.
Roster Of Meditation Benefits
Other studies have discovered the potential benefits of meditation.
Meditation as well as simply listening to music programs could benefit older adults suffering from preclinical memory loss. The Jan. 18 research, conducted on adults experiencing subjective cognitive decline (a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s), results in marked and important improvements in subjective memory function in the participants.
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) neuroscientists also found that a three-month yoga and meditation course can help reduce the emotional and cognitive issues preceding Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.
Mind-based therapies, mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular, may be more effective in easing chronic back pain than usual treatments, according to researchers writing in JAMA. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) integrates various elements of mindfulness, yoga, and meditation, while CBT is a psychotherapeutic method that encourages modifying certain thoughts and behaviors.
Anxiety disorder, the area of interest of the new study, is marked by chronic and excess worrying and afflicts almost 7 million in the United States at any given year. Disorders from the anxiety spectrum have also been found to be commonly linked to skin diseases.