Meditation is a common method of mental and physical relaxation. It's possible that meditation can help with clinical conditions.
A recent review of research found that meditation programs moderately helped to reduce the negative side effects of psychological stress associated with some psychological and medical conditions.
The authors of this study determined that anxiety, depression and chronic pain were the conditions most improved by meditation programs.
The lead author of this review was Madhav Goyal, MD, MPH, from the Department of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
The review included 47 previously published studies on meditation programs. Each study had a study population ranging from 15 to 186, for a total of 3,515 study participants over the age of 18.
Every participant had been diagnosed with a condition that involved stress.
All studies were published by June 2013.
The study lengths ranged from three weeks to 5.4 years, and included structured meditation programs consisting of at least four hours of formal training, as well as instructions for practicing the program at home.
The types of meditation programs reviewed included the following:
- Mindfulness meditation: an intentional and self-regulated focusing of attention intended to relax and calm the mind and body
- Mantra meditation: a method that involves repeating a sound for calming purposes
Fifteen of the studies had participants with psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression, stress, chronic worry and insomnia. Five studies included participants who were smokers or alcoholics.
Five studies included participants with chronic pain. Sixteen studies included participants with medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, breast cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and HIV.
This review showed that the mantra meditation programs had little or no effect on any of the conditions. However, the strength of the evidence was low or insufficient.
There was moderate evidence that mindfulness meditation programs improved anxiety and depression at eight weeks and three to six months, as well as pain overall.
The researchers also found that mindfulness meditation programs slightly improved participants' stress/distress related to both psychological conditions and medical conditions.
There was insufficient evidence that any of the meditation programs affected weight or health-related behaviors brought on by stress.
The authors of this review concluded that meditation programs might help reduce the negative effects of stress.
There were a few limitations mentioned. First, some of the studies were conducted before modern standards for clinical studies were established. Second, there was not a standard for the meditation trainers' experience.
Third, because of the limitations of each specific study, the authors of the review could only find low or insufficient evidence for each of the outcomes.
This review was published on January 6 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality provided funding.