WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
July 9, 2007 -- Meditation is increasingly popular as a complementary
treatment for high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health conditions,
but its therapeutic value remains unproven, researchers say.
That is the finding from one of the largest and most comprehensive reviews
of the research on meditation and health ever conducted.
Investigators from the University of Alberta Evidence-based Practice Center
analyzed 813 English-language studies designed to assess the impact of
meditation on health problems. They found that the three most studied health
conditions were high blood pressure, heart disease, and substance abuse. Other
conditions that had been studied included fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety
disorders, chronic pain, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
They concluded the studies were not of high enough quality to prove or
disprove the value of meditation as a therapeutic treatment.
“There is an enormous amount of interest in using meditation as a form of
therapy to cope with a variety of modern-day health problems, especially
hypertension, stress, and chronic pain, but the majority of evidence that seems
to support this notion is anecdotal, or it comes from poor-quality studies,”
researchers Maria Ospina, MSc, and Kenneth Bond, MA, note in a news
Their report, titled “Meditation Practices for Health: State of the
Research,” was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Bond, Ospina, and colleagues identified meditation techniques, which they
placed in five broad categories for the purposes of their review: meditation
involving a mantra (including transcendental meditation and relaxation
response), mindfulness meditation (including Zen Buddhist practice), and the
breathing and movement disciplines yoga, tai chi, and qi gong.
They looked at studies published from 1956 to 2005. Most of the meditation
studies included in the review were conducted in Western countries, and about
half were published within the last 15 years.
Although more than 800 studies were included in the initial review, most
were not of rigorous enough design to prove a therapeutic benefit for
meditation, the researchers concluded.
“We can’t really draw firm conclusions about the effectiveness of any of
these treatments,” Bond tells WebMD.
And since few of the studies compared meditation practices head to head,
there is little to suggest that one technique is better than another for
treating these or other health conditions, Bond says.
The researchers conclude that firm conclusions on the therapeutic benefits
of meditation will only be possible if future studies are more rigorously
designed and more carefully carried out and reported than past studies.
In the meantime, patients who turn to meditation to lower their blood
pressure, relieve stress, or treat any other health condition are basically on
their own when deciding which practice to choose, Bond says.
“It really is a question of personal preference and individual experience at
this point,” he says. “The scientific evidence just isn’t there to help people
make the decision about what to practice.”
SOURCES: Ospina, M.B. Meditation Practices for Health: State of the
Research, June 2007, prepared for the Agency for Healthcare Research and
Quality. Maria B. Ospina, MSc, and Kenneth Bond, MA, University of
Alberta/Capital Health Evidence-based Practice Center, Edmonton, Canada.
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