Study review shows drop in anxiety and depression in those who meditate
By Nicole Ostrow
Meditation may offer the same relief as antidepressants for people with symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to an analysis of previous findings on the practice.
A review of 47 studies showed a 5 per cent to 10 per cent reduction in anxiety symptoms and a 10 per cent to 20 per cent improvement in depression in individuals who meditated compared with placebo groups, according to research published on Jan 6 in the Jama Internal Medicine journal. The analysis also suggested that meditation eased pain, though it was not clear which types of pain it relieved the most.
The findings may support the use of ‘mindfulness’ meditation as a way to moderate the need for medications to treat anxiety and depression, said Dr Allan Goroll, a professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, in an accompanying editorial.
Mindfulness meditation is a form practised for 30 – 40 minutes a day that teaches a person how to become more aware of one’s thoughts, breathing and emotions.
“The findings of such research should be the subject of conversations that need to begin in every examination room and extend to engage the media, who play a key role in determining patient attitudes towards health care and the demand for services,” Dr Goroll wrote.
Researches looked at 47 trials through June of 3,515 people. The studies included meditation and evaluated an assortment of mental and physical health issues, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, heart disease, chronic pain and stress.
Patients who underwent about eight weeks of training for mindfulness meditation showed improvement in symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain. Most of the patients had not been diagnosed with clinical anxiety or depression. The reduction in symptoms was similar to the effects that other studies have found for the use of antidepressants in similar populations, researchers said.
Dr Madhav Goyal, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the study’s lead author, said the researchers do not know why meditation may work at relieving depression and anxiety, though It could be that people who meditate reduce their reaction to negative emotions or symptoms, lowering the effects of the emotions.
“Clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that meditation programmes could have un addressing psychological stress, particularly when symptoms are mild,” he said in an e-mail.
Still, larger studies are needed to better understands who is helped the most by meditation programmes, Dr Goyal said.
“Our review suggests that there is moderate evidence for a small but consistent benefit for anxiety, depression and chronic pain,” he said.
“There is not known major harm from meditation, and medication doesn’t come with any know side effects. One can also practise meditation along with other treatments one is already receiving.”
There was little evidence in the analysis that meditation improved the quality of life or stress and not enough information to show if other areas, including attention, substance abuse, sleep and weight, were improved by the practice, the authors said.
“We should keep foremost in our mind that meditation was never conceived of as a treatment for any health problem,” Dr Goyal said. “Rather, it is a path one travels on to increase his awareness and gain insight into his life. The best reason to meditate is to increase insight into one’s life, which is probably good for everyone.”
- Washington Post