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NCCIH Clinical Digest

for health professionals

Meditation for Health

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November 2014
A woman meditates at sunrise.

© Thinkstock

This issue of the digest summarizes current scientific evidence about meditation for health conditions, including cancer symptoms and treatment side effects, high blood pressure, menopausal symptoms, anxiety disorders, smoking cessation, and ADHD.

Research suggests that meditation can be a powerful tool for learning control of attention, regulating emotion, and increasing self-awareness. New scientific data show that during meditation there are a number of measurable biological changes, and the data suggest that meditation has the potential to impact mental and physical health. For example, neuroimaging suggests meditation may have an effect on brain function that persists even when someone is not meditating. Another study showed changes in certain genes related to inflammation and histones.

The scientific evidence to date suggests that mindfulness meditation—a mind-body practice which cultivates abilities to maintain focused and clear attention, and develop increased awareness of the present—may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as menopausal symptoms and the symptoms associated with cancer and treatment side effects.

What the Science Says: 

Condition and Summary of Current Evidence

Cancer symptoms and treatment side effects

Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines from the Society for Integrative Oncology and the American College of Chest Physicians recommend meditation, as well as other mind-body modalities, as part of a multidisciplinary approach to reduce anxiety, mood disturbance, chronic pain, and improve quality of life.

These guidelines are based on evidence that meditation can help cancer patients relieve anxiety, stress, fatigue, and general mood and sleep disturbances, thus improving their quality of life.

Read more about the evidence base of meditation for cancer symptoms and treatment side effects

Hypertension

A 2013 review and scientific statement on alternative approaches to lowering blood pressure from the American Heart Association provides the following statement regarding meditation for high blood pressure: “The overall evidence supports that Transcendental Meditation (TM)  modestly lowers blood pressure.” However, the review indicates that it is uncertain whether TM is truly superior to other meditation techniques in terms of blood pressure lowering because there are few head-to-head studies.

Read more about the evidence base of meditation for lowering blood pressure

Menopausal symptoms

A growing body of evidence suggests that meditation-based programs may be helpful in reducing common menopausal symptoms, including the frequency and intensity of hot flashes, sleep and mood disturbances, stress, and muscle and joint pain.

Read more about the evidence base of meditation for menopausal symptoms

Anxiety disorders

There is moderate evidence that meditation is useful for symptoms of anxiety and depression in adults.

Read more about the evidence base of meditation for anxiety disorders

Smoking cessation

To date, there have been a few randomized studies on mindfulness-based interventions for smoking cessation, but overall, there is not enough evidence to know whether mind-body practices are as efficacious as other more established smoking cessation treatments.

Read more about the evidence base of meditation for smoking cessation

ADHD

Because only a few studies have been conducted on the effects of meditation therapy for ADHD, there isn’t sufficient evidence to support the use of meditation for this condition.

Read more about the evidence base of meditation for ADHD

Clinical Guidelines

Scientific Literature

NCCIH Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NIH, DHHS. NCCIH Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on complementary health approaches, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCIH-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is dedicated to exploring complementary health products and practices in the context of rigorous science, training complementary health researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCIH's Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCIH Web site at nccih.nih.gov. NCCIH is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.

Copyright

Content is in the public domain and may be reprinted, except if marked as copyrighted (©). Please credit the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health as the source. All copyrighted material is the property of its respective owners and may not be reprinted without their permission.

This page last modified November 20, 2015