Research on Mindfulness: An Introduction
Mindfulness can help with some of the most costly health conditions facing employers, payors, and employees. Recent studies shows its effectiveness in stress management, weight control, diabetes, mental health, addiction, heart disease, pain management, and much more.
These conditions also contribute to employee absenteeism and productivity, which mindfulness can improve by addressing these underlying root causes.
The concept of mindfulness is simple.
“The goal of all mindfulness is to maintain awareness moment by moment, disengaging oneself from strong attachment to beliefs, thoughts, or emotions, thereby developing a greater sense of emotional balance and well-being.”1 Detachment from thoughts and emotions allows individuals to observe their habitual patterns of behavior without judgment, creating space for wiser choices.
The practice of mindfulness is known to have effects on human physiology, including improved blood pressure and cardiac functioning (eg, Anderson et al,2 Schneider et al,3 and Dusek et al4). Stressors activate the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response), causing higher blood pressure and having a deleterious effect on the heart. Mindfulness, on the other hand, actually reduces sympathetic activation (measured by blood biomarkers and cardiac indices). For example, a study of 19 patients with congestive heart failure found that a 12-week meditation program reduced blood levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine, improved cardiovascular function, and enhanced quality of life.5 Walton et al6 evaluated studies of meditation and cardiovascular disease and found that meditation “may be responsible for reductions of 80% or greater in medical insurance claims and payments to physicians.” Another study of meditation among 23 African Americans recently hospitalized with congestive heart failure found that the meditation group had fewer rehospitalizations and better cardiac function than the control group.7 Not surprisingly, they also exhibited improved mood and enhanced quality of life. The seminal study by Dean Ornish et al8 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that lifestyle changes that included meditation-based stress management actually reversed coronary atherosclerosis over a five-year period in a group of 20 persons with moderate to severe coronary heart disease. Patients in the control group (n _ 15) had more than twice as many cardiac events than those in the experimental group. As many mindbody medicine advocates have pointed out, if there were a pill that could do this, the government would mandate its immediate and widespread use.
Recent studies point to the role of meditation in bolstering immunity by modulating the stress response. In a landmark study, Davidson et al9 were the first to demonstrate that meditation changes both brain and immune function. They found that an eight-week mindfulness meditation program produced beneficial changes in both brain and immune function in a group of 25 healthy participants. In addition to showing that the meditation group, compared to the controls, had increased brain activity in an area associated with positive emotions, they also demonstrated increased production of antibodies in response to a flu vaccine.10
For more information on mindfulness research, click on any of the links on the left side of this page.
For more information on research conducted by eMindful, click here.
1. Ludwig DS, Kabat-Zinn J. Mindfulness in medicine. JAMA. 2008;300:1350-1352.
2. Anderson JW, Liu C, Kryscio RJ. Blood pressure response to transcendental meditation: a meta-analysis. Am J Hypertens. 2008;21:310-316.
3. Schneider RH, Walton KG, Salerno JW, Nidich SI. Cardiovascular disease prevention and health promotion with the TM program. Ethn Dis. 2006;16(3 supple 4):15-26.
4. Dusek JA, Hibberd PL, Buczynski B, et al. Stress management versus lifestyle modification on systolic hypertension and medication elimination: a randomized trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2008;14:129-138.
5. Curiati JA, Bocchi E, Freire JO, et al. Meditation reduces sympathetic activation and improves the quality of life in elderly patients with optimally treated heart failure: a prospective randomized study. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11:465-472.
6. Walton KG, Schneider RH, Salerno JW, Nidich SI. Psychosocial stress and cardiovascular disease. [Part 3: TM] Behavioral Modification. 2005;30(4):173-183.
7. Jayadevappa R, Johnson JC, Bloom BS, et al. Effectiveness of transcendental meditation on functional capacity and quality of life of African Americans with congestive heart failure: a randomized controlled study. Ethn Dis. 2007;17:72-77.
8. Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA. 1998;280:2001-2007.
9. Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J, et al. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosom Med. 2003;65:564-570.
10. McCabe Ruff, K., Mackenzie, E., Baime, M., Biegel, G., Brantley, J., Chadwick, J., et al. (2009). The Role of Mindfulness in Healthcare Reform: A Policy Paper. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 5(6), 313-323.