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 release.
Meditation and Health
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.
Future Meditation Research
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.”