Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison say that people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions in which stress plays a role – such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease — may benefit from a meditation technique known as mindfullness.
Originally designed for patients with chronic pain, mindfulness meditation focuses attention on the breath, body sensations and thinking about the “present moment” while patients are seated, walking or practicing yoga.
Meditation is an alternative for pain patients who don’t get relief from prescription painkillers or suffer too many side effects.
The study compared two 8-week programs designed to reduce psychological stress; one based on mindfulness meditation and the other involving nutritional education, physical exercise and music therapy to promote well-being.
“In this setting, we could see if there were changes that we could detect that were specific to mindfulness,” said study author Melissa Rosenkranz, assistant scientist at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.
To test the effectiveness of each program, an irritating capsaicin cream was applied to the skin of participants to induce inflammation and psychological stress.
While both techniques were effective in reducing stress, researchers say mindfulness meditation was more effective at reducing the inflammation caused by the cream.
“This is not a cure-all, but our study does show that there are specific ways that mindfulness can be beneficial, and that there are specific people who may be more likely to benefit from this approach,” said Rosenkranz.
“The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment, and it can be practiced easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need.”
The study was supported by grants from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Institute of Mental Health.