Meditation Might be Useful Addition to Heart-healthy Lifestyle and Medical Treatment

Meditation Might be Useful Addition to Heart-healthy Lifestyle and Medical Treatment

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Highlights:

  • Review of published scientific studies indicates that meditation has significant benefits for heart health
  • Various meditative techniques have significant benefits for heart health and improve outcomes in patients with cardiovascular diseases
  • Meditation has clear physiological impacts like lowering heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and hormone levels which in turn reduce stress and anxiety
  • Meditative practices can be used in conjunction with medication for a healthy heart
A new scientific statement issued by the American Heart Association states that meditation might have the potential to reduce some risk factors for heart disease, while keeping in mind that the gold standard for lowering risk still remain maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle and following medical recommendations.
Meditation Might be Useful Addition to Heart-healthy Lifestyle and Medical Treatment

The American Heart Association's 2014 Annual Statistical Report indicated that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of deaths globally. A total of 17.3 million people die each year due to cardiac-related diseases. The number is expected to increase to 23.6 million by 2030.

While clinical, pharmacological and lifestyle interventions have had some effect on lowering the risks of cardiac disease, most people have at least 1 singular risk factor. There have been several studies on inexpensive interventions that can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Review of current clinical evidence indicates that meditation has significant benefits for the brain and heart health. Various meditative techniques have significant benefits for heart health and improve outcomes in patients with cardiovascular diseases according to numerous published studies on meditation,

The National Health Interview Survey indicated that 8% of adults in the US practice some form of meditation. Around 2-3% of people with CVDs have tried meditation and half of CVD patients are interested in robust clinical studies on meditation and alternative therapies. The American Heart Association commissioned a scientific statement to scientifically and systematically review data on the potential benefits of meditation on CVDs (Levine GN et al., 2017). Earlier published studies (Basu Ray et al., 2014; Harvard Health Letter, 2013) have documented significant benefits of meditation on heart disease.

Methodology

The team searched for studies on meditation and cardiovascular risk reduction on PubMed with search terms like meditation, stress, blood pressure, hypertension, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, atherosclerosis, and myocardial ischemia. Additionally, Google Scholar and Google search were used. The review was restricted to practices of sitting meditation. There are various types of sitting meditative practices including transcendental meditation, guided visualization, mindfulness meditation, and vipassana (insight) meditation among others.

Effects of Meditation on the Brain

There have been nearly two decades of research on the effects of meditation on the brain. Studies have used techniques like electroencephalography, magnetic resonance imaging and functional magnetic resonance imaging. Several studies reported significant neurophysiological and neuroanatomical changes in the brain post-meditation. One such example includes a 2-month mindfulness meditation program which resulted in increased left-sided anterior brain electrical activation. This is associated with positive affect and emotion. Overall meditation has a long-lasting impact on the brain and this in turn impacts physiological basal rate and cardiovascular risk.

Meditation and Cardiovascular Risks

Meditation has been associated with reducing several risk factors of cardiovascular diseases:
  • Physiological, psychological and psychosocial stress - in a study from a private cardiology clinic 60 patients underwent 8 weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction with meditative techniques. The group had better responses to stress and anger than the control group which did not go through the program.
  • Blood pressure - a pilot study of 83 hypertensive colored people randomized to 8 weeks of mindful meditation showed an 11/4 mm Hg reduction in systolic/diastolic blood pressure. Even with scattered studies and differing results ranging from some benefits to no benefits, the mechanism by which meditation reduces blood pressure is still unclear. There is a need for long-term data with better understanding of how meditation lowers blood pressure.
  • Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are risk factors for CVD. The relaxation response induced by meditation can have effects on metabolic syndrome by lowering stress levels. In 1 novel study, participants listened to 20 minutes of a relaxation response CD and this in turn led to reduced expression of genes related to inflammatory response and stress pathways which contribute to metabolic syndrome. More data is needed on the impact of meditation on metabolic syndrome though current data indicates positive effects
  • Subclinical atherosclerosis - there is limited evidence on this risk factor though some data is available. A randomized control trial which tracked meditation effects on carotid intimal thickness among 138 hypertensive colored people found that after 1 year the group showed reduction in thickness whereas the control group had no such reduction.
There is a clear need for more systematized trials and evidence data to actually prove the mechanisms by which meditation reduces cardiovascular risks. However, available limited data have positive indications of salubrious effects of meditation. Since meditation is a low-cost intervention, it is suggested as an adjunct to other interventions aimed at reducing cardiovascular risks.

References:

  1. Levine GN, Lange RA, Bairey-Merz CN, Davidson RJ, Jamerson K, Mehta PK, Michos ED, Norris K, Ray IB, Saban KL, Shah T, Stein R, Smith SC Jr; on behalf of the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; and Council on Hypertension. Meditation and cardiovascular risk reduction: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. J Am Heart Assoc. (2017);6:e002218. DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.117.002218.
  2. Ray IB, Menezes AR, Malur P, Hiltbold AE, Reilly JP, Lavie CJ. Meditation and Coronary Heart Disease: A Review of the Current Clinical Evidence. The Ochsner Journal. (2014);14(4):696-703.
  3. Meditation & Your Heart: Stress-Buster May Reduce Risk for Heart Attack & Stroke - (http://www.secondscount.org/heart-resources/heart-resources-detail-2/meditation--your-heart-stressbuster-may-reduce-ris)
  4. New statistical update looks at worldwide heart, stroke health - (http://newsroom.heart.org/news/new-statistical-update-looks-at-worldwide-heart-stroke-health)

Source: Medindia

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