Public Health Burden
Understanding the connections between the mind and the body and how they can affect health is a goal of biomedical research. Research that contributes to our understanding of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices in the mind-body arena, such as meditation, yoga, and acupuncture, and the brain’s response to these approaches ultimately advance the science of medicine.
Meditation and Yoga
People use meditation and yoga for various health-related purposes—for example, to address problems such as anxiety or depression, cope with physical and emotional symptoms associated with chronic illness, or promote overall physical and emotional wellness. ARRA-funded grants are looking at how these CAM approaches may help to promote wellness.
- Preliminary evidence suggests that meditation and exercise may interact through psychological and physiological pathways to stimulate the body’s immune system and reduce infectious disease. One ARRA-funded grant is studying a group of adults age 50 and older to determine whether meditation and exercise can reduce the incidence of upper respiratory infection. The researchers will look at effects on the body’s response to flu vaccinations, as well as the influence of stress, optimism, anxiety, and positive/negative emotions on immunity and resistance to upper respiratory infection. Study results may lead to a new approach to reducing the public health burden of acute upper respiratory infection.1
- Another ARRA-funded grant is assessing whether meditation may benefit the emotional well-being of both the meditation practitioner and other people in the practitioner’s social environment. The researchers will compare two kinds of meditation: compassion meditation and mindful attention training. Their findings will provide important data on the potential of specific meditation techniques to improve psychosocial functioning—i.e., the ability of people to make positive connections with others.2
- Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and illness in the United States. The public health burden is enormous. There appears to be a connection between exercise and smoking cessation, and yoga may offer additional benefits as a complementary treatment for smokers who are trying to quit. However, most studies in this area have been in women—men are underrepresented in the research. An ARRA-funded grant is taking a preliminary look at yoga as a complementary treatment for smoking cessation among men, gathering pilot data for a larger trial to determine yoga’s acceptability and efficacy for smoking cessation among men, as well as mechanisms by which yoga might exerts effects to help people stop smoking.3
As part of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is one of the oldest healing practices in the world. Today, scientists are studying how acupuncture might work to alleviate a number of conditions, and are using cutting-edge technologies to examine the body’s neurological responses to acupuncture. In addition to providing data on a potentially useful therapy, their findings are revealing new information about the human brain. An ARRA-funded grant is exploring the mechanisms of acupuncture for insomnia.
- Chronic insomnia is a common, disabling condition often found in people who are dealing with psychiatric and medical conditions at the same time. Insomnia often persists despite currently available treatments. Acupuncture has been reported to benefit individuals with insomnia and can decrease a related condition called “hyperarousal.” An ARRA-funded grant is enabling researchers to add psychophysiological testing to their evaluation of the effects of acupuncture on insomnia. With this testing, the researchers can assess more fully acupuncture’s effects on daytime symptoms of insomnia.4
- 1 R01 AT004313001A1—Meditation and Exercise for Prevention of Acute Respiratory Infection. Barrett, Bruce P. (WI)
- 3 R01 AT004698-01A1S1—Mechanisms of Meditation. Raison, Charles. (GA)
- 3 R21AT003669-02S1—Yoga for Women Attempting Smoking Cessation: An Initial Investigation. Bock, Beth C. (RI)
- 3 R21 AT004429-01A1S1—Acupuncture for the Treatment of Insomnia: A Pilot Study. Glick, Ronald M. (PA)