Meditation has the capability to decrease some risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but the golden standard for reducing risk remains a heart-healthy way of life and following medical recommendations, according to a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association.
Studies have proven that meditation may have long-term impacts on the mind and how it functions, and many studies on the possible advantages of meditation have been published, which prompted the American Heart Association to review present high-quality scientific research to ascertain whether the practice has a part in reducing cardiovascular disease.
Although the practice of meditation dates back as far as 5000 BC and is connected with specific philosophies and religions, meditation is increasingly practiced as a secular and therapeutic activity. About 8% Americans practice some type of meditation and, in the National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, 17 percent of patients having cardiovascular disease voiced an interest in participating in a clinical trial of meditation.
A writing group composed of cardiovascular disease specialists and a neuroscientist examined existing research on whether common types of sitting meditation had an effect on cardiovascular risk factors and disease.
The review excluded studies on combination mind-body practices, like yoga and Tai Chi, because the physical action included in those practices has a proven positive influence on cardiovascular disease risk. The studies of sitting meditation, including many different common forms such as: Samatha; Vipassana (Insight Meditation); Mindful Meditation; Zen Meditation (Zazen); Raja Yoga; Loving-Kindness (Metta); Transcendental Meditation; and Relaxation Response revealed that meditation:
- May be correlated with diminished levels of stress, depression and anxiety, and enhanced quality of sleep and total well-being;
- May help reduce blood pressure, though there isn't sufficient evidence to determine whether or how much it can lower blood pressure in a given individual;
- May help people quit smoking; and
- Might be related to a diminished risk of heart attack, though there are only a few studies on this, and more studies are required before any decisions can be made.
"Although studies of meditation suggest a possible benefit on cardiovascular risk, there hasn't been enough research to conclude it has a definite role," stated Glenn N. Levine, M.D., chair of the writing group of the AHA Scientific Statement which is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.
"Since education on how to meditate is widely available and meditation has little if any risk associated with it, interested people may want to use these techniques, in addition to established medical and lifestyle interventions, as a possible way to lower heart disease risk. However, it's important that people understand that the benefits remain to be better established and that meditation is not a substitute for traditional medical care," stated Levine, who is professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
Levine notes that before we understand more, the mainstay for the prevention and treatment of coronary disease stays lifestyle advice and medical treatment that has been carefully researched and demonstrated to work, such as cholesterol therapy, blood pressure control, smoking cessation and regular physical activity.