Meditation as Medicine

Healthnotes Newswire (August 17, 2006)—Best-known for its ability to reduce stress, the practice of transcendental meditation may also help prevent heart disease. A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine reports that people who meditate every day might lower their chance of developing a set of risk factors for cardiovascular disease called insulin resistance syndrome or the metabolic syndrome.

Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the United States, and having insulin resistance syndrome greatly increases the chance of developing it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50 million Americans have at least three of the five criteria that characterize insulin resistance syndrome: high blood pressure, high triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood), high blood sugar, low levels of heart-protective HDL cholesterol, and excess fat around the abdomen.

In people with insulin resistance syndrome, the body’s response to insulin is impaired, which si sometimes described as reduced insulin sensitivity. The best treatment is also the best prevention: regular physical exercise, healthy weight, limited saturated fat intake, and not smoking.

Some studies have also found that stress may be a partial cause. Because of its historical use as a stress-reduction technique, researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center aimed to determine the effect of transcendental meditation on insulin resistance syndrome.

Developed over 50 years ago by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, transcendental meditation is a simple procedure to help the body relax and to allow the mind to enter a state of restful alertness. According to the Maharishi Vedic Education Corporation, it is in this state that “the mind transcends all mental activity to experience the simplest form of awareness, transcendental consciousness.”

Among the reported benefits of meditation are better memory, greater creativity and focus, less tension and stress, and lower blood pressure.

Over 100 people with heart disease took part in the 16-week trial that compared the effects of the daily practice of transcendental meditation with that of a health education program on components of the metabolic syndrome.

At the end of the study, the people who had been practicing meditation had significantly lower systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) and their insulin sensitivity was much improved. Heart rates in the meditating group were also less variable, suggesting that the meditation had a positive effect on the stress.

The authors concluded, “Our findings suggest that interventions that target neurohumoral pathways, especially via meditation or related techniques, may be beneficial for coronary heart disease reduction.”

(Arch Int Med 2006;166:1218–24)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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