- Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach to various psychological conditions.
- Anxiety disorder is a condition of chronic and excessive worrying.
- A recent trial has demonstrated that mindfulness meditation is very effective in managing anxiety.
- It helps in reducing the biomarkers of stress response in anxiety disorder.
Mindfulness meditation is effective against anxiety.
Though it is an increasingly popular treatment for anxiety, mindfulness meditation has always been difficult to test the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation.
‘Mindfulness meditation improves resilience to stress and it has shown to reduce the hormonal and inflammatory responses triggered by stress.’
An NIH-sponsored clinical trial led by researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center has found objective physiological evidence that mindfulness meditation combats anxiety.
Anxiety disorder is a chronic condition characterized by excessive worrying. It is estimated to affect nearly 7 million Americans during any one year.
Women are more affected by it than men.
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment. Anxiety disorders cost the U.S economy more than $42 billion a year.
In the new trial, it was found that the stress-hormone and inflammatory responses were sharply reduced in patients with anxiety disorder during a stressful situation after taking a mindfulness meditation course compared to patients who took a non-meditation stress management course, who had worsened responses.
"Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress," said lead author Elizabeth A. Hoge, MD, associate professor in Georgetown University Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry.
The trial included 89 patients with generalized anxiety disorder.
The patients were randomly divided into two groups and were not told which was the treatment of interest to the researchers:
- one group took an eight-week mindfulness based stress reduction course that included training in meditative techniques
- the control group took an eight-week Stress Management Education course, which included general tips on the importance of good nutrition, sleep habits and other wellness topics
Before and after the training course, participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test which is a standard experimental technique for inducing a stress response.
Here, the participants are asked to give a speech before an audience at short notice, and are given other anxiety-inducing instructions.
"We were testing the patients' resilience," Hoge said, "because that's really the ultimate question--can we make people handle stress better?"
For the stress test, the blood-based markers of stress responses, like levels of the stress hormone ACTH and the inflammatory proteins IL-6 and TNF-α, were monitored.
The control group showed modest increase in the levels of these biomarkers, suggesting a worsening of their anxiety.
In the meditation group there was big drops in these markers suggesting that the meditation training had helped them cope.
Researchers also found that, compared to the controls, the meditation group patients experienced significantly greater reductions in self-reported measures of stress after their course.
The study adds to evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation in treating anxiety, Hoge said.
She noted too that with its rigorous "active control" design, it provides a good paradigm for the future study of interventions such as meditation, to which patients cannot be blinded.
Researchers hope to expand the study of mindfulness-related treatments to other psychiatric conditions, and to compare such treatments to standard psychiatric drug therapies.
The study is published in Psychiatry Research
- Elizabeth A. Hoge et al. Psychiatry Research ; (2017)
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