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.
‘Various meditative techniques have significant benefits for heart health and improve outcomes in patients with coronary heart disease according to the American Heart Association.’
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
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.,
published studies (Basu Ray et al., 2014; Harvard Health Letter, 2013) have
documented significant benefits of meditation on heart disease.
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
, 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
and Cardiovascular Risks
Meditation has been
associated with reducing several risk factors of cardiovascular diseases:
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- New statistical update looks at worldwide heart, stroke health - (http://newsroom.heart.org/news/new-statistical-update-looks-at-worldwide-heart-stroke-health)