The ancient practice of meditation may have a role to play in modern medicine. A new U.S. study shows patients who meditated daily for four months experienced a noticeable drop in risk factors for heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.
The lead researcher says the age-old relaxation technique helps the body cope with stress. Left unchecked, stress can lead to heart disease and other ills. “It is altering the stress response physiologically to be less adverse,” Noel Bairey Merz of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said in an e-mail interview.
The research team studied 84 heart patients who were randomly divided into two groups. One was taught transcendental meditation (TM), based on the ancient Vedic tradition from India. The other received a series of health lectures. Both groups continued to get conventional medical treatment.
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After 16 weeks, the mediating patients appeared to be doing better than those in the control group. On average, they experienced a drop in blood pressure, had better controlled insulin levels and more stable heart beats, according to results published in Archives of Internal Medicine.
Patients “should consider adding TM to their ongoing [heart] management,” said Dr. Bairey Merz. It’s easy to do and it has no side effects, she added. It basically involves sitting quietly for 20 minutes, while focusing on a single sound or mantra.
Even so, some doctors questioned the results and want to see more proof. Dr. Bairey Merz isn’t surprised by that response: “Unfortunately, there is sometimes a double standard for lifestyle trials with more inherent suspicion by the medical establishment of practices out of the control of the physician.”