(NaturalNews) Mindfulness meditation techniques may help reduce the symptoms of chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Waisman Center and published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
"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," lead author Melissa Rosenkranz said.
Mindfulness meditation-based techniques have long been used for stress management and to relieve the symptoms of chronic pain. These techniques typically consist of focusing the attention on the breath, on sensations in the body and on thoughts or feelings while sitting, walking or taking part in a body practice such as yoga. Yet few studies have been conducted to examine the specific physiological benefits that can derive from mindfulness practice.
The researchers focused on chronic inflammatory conditions because these are known to be particularly exacerbated by stress, one of the primary mental states that mindfulness practices are designed to alleviate.
The new study was the first to test for the benefits of mindfulness meditation in a way that ruled out influence from associated practices. Because so many of the activities associated with mindfulness practice - such as exercise (in walking meditations or yoga), social interaction, developing a relationship with an expert instructor, or learning new skills - may also be associated with reduced stress and improved health, it can be difficult to identify benefits specific to the meditation itself.
"We wanted to develop an intervention that was meant to produce positive change and compare the mindfulness approach to an intervention that was structurally equivalent," Rosenkranz said.
Larger effect on inflammation
Study participants were divided into two groups, one group undergoing training in mindfulness meditation practices, and the other undergoing training in a Health Enhancement Program that consisted of music therapy, nutritional education and various physical exercises (such as balance, agility and core strengthening, and walking). Each component of the Health Enhancement Program was designed to be equivalent to a non-meditative aspect of the mindfulness program.
"In this setting, we could see if there were changes that we could detect that were specific to mindfulness," Rosenkranz said.
Both before and after training, the researchers induced psychological stress and participants by means of the Trier Social Stress Test, and induced skin inflammation with a capsaicin cream. They found that while participants in both groups experienced significantly less psychological stress after undergoing training, only participants from the mindfulness group experienced lessened inflammation.
The findings show that mindfulness training and other interventions to improve emotional stability should benefit people who suffer from chronic inflammation, the researchers said. They also indicate that mindfulness techniques may be more effective than other health promotion therapies.
"This is not a cure-all," Rosenkranz said "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."