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