Mindfulness meditation can help people with rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and other types of chronic inflammation where psychological stress is known to contribute to pain, according to a new study.
“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,” said lead author of the study Melissa Rosenkran.
In the study, conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds in the Waisman Center, neuroscientists tested the efficacy of mindfulness meditation in reducing pain. The study was the first to control for other therapeutic mechanism that may influence the pain intensity, such as social interaction, instruction, or learning new skills.
The study compared two ways of reducing stress: mindfulness meditation and a program designed to enhance health in ways that weren’t associated with mindfulness meditation.
Researchers induced inflammation in participants by using capsaicin cream. They measured immune and endocrine levels before and after the participants were trained in either of the stress reducing techniques. Psychological stress was induced by tool called Trier Social Stress Test.
Study results showed that though behavioral changes were effective in reducing emotional stress, mindfulness meditation based approaches helped these people deal with pain associated with inflammation better.
However, researchers maintain that mindfulness meditation is no magic pill to reduce pain. “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 than other interventions,” Rosenkranz said.
The study is published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.