Many people meditate to reduce psychological stress and stress-related health problems. To counsel people appropriately, clinicians need to know what the evidence says about the health benefits of meditation, according to this new study.
Dr. Madhav Goyal, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and lead author of study along with colleagues examined the effectiveness of meditation programs in improving stress-related outcomes (anxiety, depression, stress/distress, positive mood, mental health–related quality of life, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, pain, and weight) in diverse adult clinical populations.
Researchers identified randomized clinical trials with active controls for placebo effects through November 2012 from MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE, PsycArticles, Scopus, CINAHL, AMED, the Cochrane Library, and hand searches.
After reviewing 18,753 citations, the team focused on 47 trials that included 3,515 participants that involved meditation and various mental and physical health issues.
The results showed mindfulness meditation had a moderate effect in improving anxiety by 38%, depression by 59% and pain by up to 62% in a eight weight training program.
The team also found low evidence in the improvement of stress/distress and mental health–related quality of life.
The results also showed low evidence of no effect or insufficient evidence of any effect of meditation programs on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight.
There was not enough information to determine whether other areas could be improved by meditation.
Studies in which had followed participants for six months had shown that improvements typically continued.
In their conclusion the team writes “Clinicians should be aware that meditation programs can result in small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress. Thus, clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation program could have in addressing psychological stress.”
The researchers add that stronger study designs are needed to determine the effects of meditation programs in improving the positive dimensions of mental health and stress-related behavior.
Mindfulness meditation should be practiced for 20 to 30 minutes a day.
According to Dr. Goyal, “Meditation programs appear to have an effect above and beyond the placebo.
"A lot of people use meditation, but it's not a practice considered part of mainstream medical therapy for anything.” "But in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants." These patients did not typically have full-blown anxiety or depression.”
This study appears in JAMA Internal Medicine.