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Mindfulness meditation and your health

As well as helping healthy people manage their stress levels and stay healthy, mindfulness meditation can help people cope with a range of conditions and illnesses, such as chronic pain, tinnitus, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, depression and anxiety.

In this blog post, we’ll look at some of the evidence for the specific health benefits of practising mindfulness and point you in the right direction if you’d like to find out more.

Coping with chronic pain

On their website Mindfulness: finding peace in a frantic world, Dr Danny Penman, Professor Mark Williams and Vidyamala Burch, tell us:

Thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers prove that mindfulness enhances mental and physical wellbeing and reduces chronic pain. Clinical trials show that mindfulness is at least as effective as the main prescription painkillers while also enhancing the body’s natural healing systems.”

They go on to say that mindfulness can dramatically reduce pain and our emotional reactions to it, with some scientific trials suggesting that average pain ‘unpleasantness’ levels can be reduced by 57 per cent.

For more information:

Living with tinnitus

Clinical psychologists at the Royal National Throat Nose & Ear Hospital, London, offered people with tinnitus an eight-week Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course, to help them cope with the condition. Feedback from participants at the end of the course showed a clinically-significant improvement in measures of tinnitus distress and emotional well-being.

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Chronic inflammatory conditions

In 2013, Medical News Today reported on a study by neuroscientists that indicated people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma, could benefit from mindfulness meditation.

The study, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, compared two methods of reducing stress:

  • A mindfulness meditation-based approach, and
  • A programme designed to enhance health in ways unrelated to mindfulness.

Both groups had the same amount of training, the same level of expertise in their instructors, and the same amount of home practice to do. While both techniques were effective in reducing stress, the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach was more effective at reducing stress-induced inflammation.

In a study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 2016, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University reported on the neurobiological benefits of mindfulness meditation and its role in reducing inflammation. The study showed that practising mindfulness reduces inflammation by changing in the brain’s functional connectivity. The researchers concluded that these changes in the brain help the brain manage stress (a known inflammation trigger), thereby reducing levels of inflammation.

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Depression and anxiety

Dr Danny Penman, writing on franticworld.com, summarizes some of the findings of a study in the prestigious online medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine:

…practising mindfulness for just half an hour a day can offer people with depression as much relief as popping a pill. This review of previous studies found regular meditation could alleviate symptoms of depression as well as conventional anti-depressants.”

Professor Mark Williams, quoted in the same article, adds:

Scientific studies have now shown that mindfulness … positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day anxiety, stress, depression and irritability. This means that when distressing thoughts arise, they dissolve away again more easily.”

The effectiveness of mindfulness is underlined by the fact that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is one of the preferred treatments for clinical-level depression recommended by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

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