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Medication and mindfulness meditation to treat hypertension

Posted 12.21.2018 | by AMRA

High blood pressure is a major cardiovascular risk factor impacting 35% of U.S. adults. Stress, anxiety, and depression can contribute to its onset and intensification. The condition is usually treated with antihypertensive medications, but a significant proportion of patients fail to achieve adequate control with medication alone.

Researchers are interested in whether stress-reduction interventions together with conventional medical care can improve outcomes compared to medication alone. In a randomized controlled trial, Marquez et al. [Journal of Human Hypertension] compared relative effectiveness of mindfulness meditation and health education programs in reducing blood pressure as well as levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

The researchers randomly assigned 42 meditation-naïve participants (average age = 57 years; 43% male; 69% on antihypertensive medication) with high-normal blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension to a Mindfulness Meditation or Health Education intervention. Both interventions were offered in two-hour group sessions that met weekly over the course of 8 weeks.

Mindfulness Meditation content was similar to that offered in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The Health Education intervention offered didactic information on hypertension risk factors, along with methods of prevention through medication, diet, and exercise. Participants were assessed at baseline, 4, 8, and 20 weeks on measures of mindfulness (evaluated using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), mood, perceived stress, anxiety, depression, and clinically assessed blood pressure (BP).

Additionally, each participant’s ambulatory BP was assessed over a 24-hour period at baseline and at week 8 using a body-worn automated device that measured BP at 15-30 minute intervals throughout the day and night. Ambulatory BP is a sound measure because it eliminates the error associated with the “white coat” effect—the spurious elevation in BP that occurs when […]

December 21st, 2018|News|

Heart health – Is meditation more than deep breathing?

Posted 09.26.2017 | by AMRA

Many forms of meditation, including mindfulness meditation, make use of the breath as a point of attentional focus. Research has shown that meditation on the breath reduces respiration rate, heart rate and blood pressure, and increases heart rate variability. Are these physiological changes the result of the cognitive and affective aspects of maintaining a meditative focus, or are they simply the consequences of breathing more slowly?

Bernardi et al. [Psychophysiology] investigated the long- and short-term respiratory and cardiovascular effects of meditation in experienced meditators and controls. In so doing, the researchers hoped to disentangle the physiological effects of slowed breathing from those of a maintained meditative focus.

The researchers recruited 41 participants (22% male, average age = 34 years) with prior meditation experience and 39 meditation-naive (54% male, average age = 25 years) controls. All of the meditators were beginning-to-intermediate yoga practitioners, although some had additional experience with vipassana, mindfulness, transcendental, or mantra meditation.

The researchers instructed participants to lie down quietly on their backs with eyes closed while their heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and arterial, tissue, and brain oxygen levels were monitored under a series of different conditions. The conditions were: 1) baseline measures of normal respiration, 2) two different periods of “paced breathing” during which participants synchronized their breathing to the beats of a metronome to achieve rates of 15 and 6 breaths per minute, 3) two different periods of metronome-paced breathing while silently reciting a mantra, known as “mantra meditation” (also at 15 and 6 breaths per minute), and 4) a five-minute body scan meditation.

The meditators differed from the controls on a variety of measures across all conditions. They tended to […]

September 26th, 2017|News|

Brief guided mindfulness meditation aids heart health

Posted 03.23.2016 | by AMRA

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Heart disease is the largest cause of death among men and women in the United States. Lifestyle changes in smoking, diet, and exercise can help lower heart disease risk. Further, mindfulness has proposed stress-reducing effects and thus may have its own role to play in heart health.

In two separate studies, May et al. [Stress] examined the association between trait mindfulness and markers of cardiovascular health and state mindfulness and fluctuations in heart rhythm and blood pressure, which are modulated by the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system responsible for the “fight-or-flight” stress response.

The studies employed two samples of predominantly female, Caucasian undergraduate students. All participants were assessed for self-reported trait mindfulness using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale. In the first study, 185 participants had their cardiovascular functioning assessed by a computer-assisted method of estimating central blood pressure from peripheral arterial activity. The researchers used an estimate of central blood pressure because it is a better indicator of cardiovascular risk than the usual peripheral blood pressure measures obtained using a blood pressure cuff. This method also provided estimates of how hard the heart was working, how much oxygen it consumed, and how much blood it received through the cardiac arteries.

The first study found that while trait mindfulness wasn’t associated with blood pressure and heart rate, it was significantly associated with improved hemodynamic functioning in terms of decreased cardiac oxygen consumption and left ventricular workload. Simply put, the heart didn’t have to work as hard for those with higher levels of trait mindfulness.

In the second study, 124 participants were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness or […]

March 23rd, 2016|News|

High mindfulness linked to heart health

Posted: 11.12.2014 | by AMRA

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The American Heart Association has identified several factors that protect against cardiovascular disease (CVD). Some of these CVD factors (smoking, diet, exercise) are behaviorally modifiable, but change requires a heightened degree of self-monitoring and self-control.

In an effort to discover whether mindfulness may support better cardiovascular health by its potential to enhance self-monitoring and self-control, Loucks et al. [International Journal of Behavioral Medicine] investigated whether CVD protective factors, as measured by blood tests (glucose and cholesterol), blood pressure cuff, and self-report measures, were associated with levels of dispositional mindfulness (as measured by the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, MAAS).

Data were collected from 382 participants (66% Caucasian, 57% female, average age = 47 years) in the New England Family Study, a large longitudinal study of the causes of neuropsychiatric and cardiovascular disease. The researchers examined the associations between mindfulness and “good” and “bad” cardiovascular health (“good” defined as 4 or more protective factors against cardiovascular disease; “bad” as fewer than 4).

Highly mindful participants were almost twice as likely (prevalence ratio=1.86) to have “good” cardiovascular health profiles as compared to less mindful participants. Highly mindful participants were significantly more likely to be nonsmokers, have untreated fasting blood glucose below 100 mg/dL, have BMIs under the cutoff for “normal,” be physically active, have stronger feelings of personal mastery, and have fewer depressive symptoms.

The relationship between mindfulness and cardiovascular health was mediated, to a large degree, through its association with fewer depressive symptoms and a higher sense of mastery.

Although the implications of these findings are limited by data collected from one point in time, this study suggests that people with high levels of mindfulness in daily life […]

November 21st, 2014|News|