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MBSR supports immune health among breast cancer survivors

Posted 05.28.2019 | by AMRA

Newly diagnosed breast cancer patients often experience significant psychological distress including symptoms of depression, sleep disturbance, and fatigue. They can also exhibit stress-induced immune system compromises that have the potential to accelerate tumor growth and metastasis. Interventions that restore psycho-immunological balance may also help improve cancer treatment outcomes.

Witek-Janusek et al. [Brain, Behavior, and Immunity] tested the effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on psychological and immunological functioning in newly diagnosed breast cancer patients in an experimental trial.

The researchers randomly assigned 164 women (average age = 55 years; 77% Caucasian) recently diagnosed with early stage breast cancer who had undergone surgery to either a standard MBSR or an active control condition. The active control consisted of eight 2.5 hour group sessions providing information on breast cancer, cancer treatment, communication with health providers, and other health-related topics. Attendance in both programs was fairly good, with 68% of MBSR and 78% of control participants attending at least 7 of the group sessions.

Each participant’s psychological status was assessed pre-intervention, mid-intervention, post-intervention, and at 1- and 6-month follow-ups for perceived stress, depression, sleep quality, fatigue, and mindfulness (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire).

The researchers also measured natural killer cell anti-tumor activity (NKCA), monocyte production of Interleukin-6 (IL-6) and Interferon-gamma (INF-ɣ), and the amount of IL-6 and Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-α) present in blood plasma. NKCA prevents tumor growth and metastasis, and is thus associated with longer cancer-free periods. NK cells produce INF-ɣ, an anti-tumor cytokine which is a key immune system activator. IL-6 and TNF-α are pro-inflammatory cytokines that promote tumor progression and aggressiveness.

The results showed that the MBSR group had significantly greater increases in two protective immunological factors […]

May 28th, 2019|News|

Experienced MBSR teachers show higher cortisol, unrelated to stress

Posted 04.23.2019 | by AMRA

Little is known about the impact of many years of mindfulness practice on the body’s response to stress. Robb et al. [Complementary Medicine Research] conducted a pilot study that measured salivary cortisol levels in a group of long-term mindfulness practitioners. Salivary cortisol is a biological measure that is highly reactive to stress. The researchers predicted that morning cortisol levels would be lowest for meditators with the most meditative experience.

Salivary cortisol levels typically peak during the first hour after waking up, and then decline throughout the rest of the day. Morning cortisol levels tend to be higher when under acute stress, and tend to be lower in states of exhaustion and burnout following long-term stress.

The authors recruited 83 certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teachers (73% female; 96% Caucasian; average age = 58; 92% with graduate degrees) to participate in the study. The participants completed an online questionnaire assessing a variety of health and lifestyle variables, perceived stress, and the extent of their meditation practice. They were then asked to produce a saliva sample upon first waking up, followed by 3 additional samples collected at 15-minute intervals. The total amount of cortisol produced during the first 45 minutes after awakening was then estimated using area under the curve (AUC) calculations.

The results showed that participants in the upper quartile of meditative experience (>26 years) had significantly higher (48%) total estimated morning cortisol amounts than those in the lowest (<10 years) quartile. The relationship between years of meditative experience and total morning cortisol remained significant when meditation experience was treated as a continuous variable.

In a closer examination of the data, this difference between participants in the […]

April 23rd, 2019|News|

MBSR added to residential mental health treatment for adolescents

Posted 12.04.2018 | by AMRA

While there is a fairly extensive research literature evaluating the benefits of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for adults with depression and anxiety, research into the benefits of MBSR for adolescents with mental health problems is sparse.

Vohra et al. [Child and Adolescent Mental Health] conducted a controlled trial of MBSR as an adjunctive treatment for adolescents attending an intensive residential mental health treatment program.

The researchers studied 85 non-psychotic adolescent patients (average age = 14 years; 59% male; 73% Caucasian) residing in an intensive residential mental health treatment program. Half of the residents received standard residential care and half received standard residential care plus adjunctive MBSR. Assignment to condition was based on the time of year that patients resided in the treatment program, rather than on individual randomization.

Standard residential care consisted of a structured program including daily group therapy, medication, education, recreation, and weekly family therapy. Adjunctive MBSR was offered in eight two-hour weekly sessions with a three-hour retreat in week eight. The standard MBSR protocol was modified for the age group and homework was less demanding.

Outcome measures assessed at baseline, 10 weeks, and 3 months included parent, teacher, and self-ratings using the Behavioral Assessment System for Children System (BASC) as well as self-ratings on perceived stress, mindfulness (using the Child Acceptance and Mindfulness Measure), and emotional regulation. During the course of the study, 4 participants were discharged early and one participant declined further participation. Average MBSR session attendance was 88%.

BASC teacher ratings showed significant improvements for the adjunctive MBSR group on measures of internalizing problems (depression, anxiety, somatization) and adaptive skills (social skills, study skills, leadership) compared to standard care alone. Average […]

December 4th, 2018|News|

Brain connectivity differs for short- and long-term meditators

Posted 08.28.2018 | by AMRA

Mindfulness-based interventions can enhance emotional regulation and improve mood, but we are only just beginning to understand the brain mechanisms responsible for these benefits. Kral et al. [Neuroimage] compared the brain activity of long-term meditators, short-term meditators, and non-meditators in response to emotionally positive, negative, and neutral images. The researchers sought to discover whether or not the amount of an individual’s meditation practice correlated with their response to emotional stimuli.

The researchers recruited a sample of 31 long-term Vipassana mediators (average age = 50 years, 55% female, average meditation practice = 9,000 hours) and compared them to a sample of 127 meditation-naive recruits. Following initial data collection, 86 of the meditation-naïve recruits (average age = 48, 63% female) were randomly assigned to a standard 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program or a Health Enhancement program (HEP) which served as a time-and-attention control.

The long-term mediators and the meditation-naive participants spent a day in the laboratory prior to the meditation-naive group’s random assignment to intervention. Following intervention, the meditation-naive group returned to the laboratory for re-assessment.

In the laboratory, participants were shown emotionally positive, negative, and neutral images while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a procedure that measures metabolic activity in different regions of the brain. The researchers measured fMRI activity in two specific brain regions: the amygdala, which plays a role in generating emotion, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), which plays a role in regulating emotion. Participants also completed a self-report measure of mindfulness, the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ).

Results from the pre-intervention data showed that meditation-naive participants had significantly greater right amygdala activity in response to positive images than long-term meditators. While […]

August 28th, 2018|News|

MBSR program safe and feasible for people with multiple sclerosis

Posted 08.16.2018 | by AMRA

Multiple sclerosis is a central nervous system disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the fatty layer of insulation surrounding nerve cells. Symptoms may include visual and sensory disturbances, muscle weakness and discoordination, fatigue, pain, and problems with mood and cognition. Stress can worsen these symptoms, and stress management can reduce the risk of the illness spreading to other brain regions.

Senders et al. [Multiple Sclerosis Journal] tested the feasibility of using Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with multiple sclerosis patients, and whether MBSR worked better than an active control intervention in improving psychological symptoms and wellbeing.

The researchers randomly assigned 67 patients with multiple sclerosis (average age = 53 years, 77% female, 97% Caucasian) to a standard 8-week MBSR intervention or to an education control group matched for time and attention. The control group curriculum covered topics such as medication, symptom management, financial planning, knowing one’s rights, and connecting with resources.

The groups were assessed on a variety of self-report measures of psychological symptoms, stress, and wellbeing at baseline, immediately after program completion, and at twelve months post-intervention.

Attention and cognition were assessed using a serial addition task in which participants listened to an audio recording of single digits presented at three-second intervals. Participants had to add each newly presented digit to the previously presented one. Participant expectations for the success of their respective interventions were assessed at baseline, with MBSR assignees having significantly higher expectations.

In regard to feasibility, 85% of the MBSR patients attended at least 6 of the 8 group sessions, thus meeting the author’s standard for course completion. They completed their at-home meditation on 55% of the assigned days for an average […]

August 16th, 2018|News|

MBSR and exercise both reduce cold and flu frequency, severity

Posted 07.17.2018 | by AMRA

Acute respiratory infections including colds and flu affect over 50% of the population annually. Interestingly, our psychological states and behaviors can affect our susceptibility to these infections. People who are under stress or otherwise unhappy are more likely to catch acute respiratory infections, while people who exercise regularly are less likely to catch them.

Barrett et al. [PLOS One] conducted a randomized controlled study to test the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and moderate intensity sustained exercise on the frequency, duration, and severity of colds and flu compared to a control group.

The researchers recruited 413 volunteers (average age = 50 years, 76% female, 85% white, 77% college educated) and randomly assigned them to a MBSR, exercise, or non-active control group. The MBSR and exercise interventions were matched on group size, program length, session frequency, and the amount of home practice (20-45 minutes).

The interventions were conducted in the fall, and participants were monitored for colds and flu from fall through spring. During this time, participants completed weekly health reports. If participants developed an infection, they completed daily reports until symptoms abated.

Additionally, they provided oral and nasal swabs to assess their immune response and identify viruses. Participants completed a variety of mental health and personality measures at baseline and at various points along the study timeline. Absenteeism, the number of respiratory infection-related medical appointments, and illness related costs were also assessed.

The study found that the MBSR and exercise groups both reduced acute respiratory infection incidence, duration, and severity. Compared to controls, the MBSR group showed a 16%, reduction in incidence, a 14% reduction in duration, and a 21% reduction in severity. Compared to controls, […]

July 17th, 2018|News|

MBSR and relaxation both reduce stress, but brain activity differs

Posted 05.17.2018 | by AMRA

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Relaxation Response (RR) training are both well-established mind-body interventions designed to reduce stress. While there is some overlap between these modalities—both involve meditative attention to bodily sensations—there are also significant differences. MBSR emphasizes non-judgmental awareness to increase acceptance of the present moment, while RR employs muscle relaxation to induce a parasympathetic state that interferes with the fight-or-flight response.

To understand the ways in which these two programs function, Sevinc et al. [Psychosomatic Medicine] tested for commonalties and differences in terms of psychological effects and brain correlates.

The researchers randomly assigned 50 volunteers (64% female, average age = 38 years) to either MBSR or RR with 40 of the volunteers completing the programs. Both programs involved 8 weekly 2-hour group sessions with 20 minutes of daily home practice. RR included a body scan meditation emphasizing muscle relaxation along with breath-focused and mantra-focused meditations.

Participants were assessed at baseline and after the intervention on self-report measures of mindfulness (using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire or FFMQ), perceived stress, self-compassion, and rumination.

After the intervention, participants underwent fMRI brain scanning while at rest and while engaging in the body scan meditation specific to each program: the RR body scan emphasized relaxing various muscle groups, whereas the MBSR body scan emphasized mindful awareness of body sensations.

The researchers were interested in exploring changes in functional connectivity in specific brain regions of interest. Brain regions exhibiting simultaneous increases and decreases in activity are said to be functionally connected. Usable fMRI data was obtained from 34 participants.

The results showed that both programs significantly reduced perceived stress (RR Cohen’s d=0.5; MBSR d=1.0). After the intervention, RR participants showed significant […]

May 24th, 2018|News|

How are MBSR participants doing 6 years after the program?

Posted 05.17.2018 | by AMRA

Most mindfulness research studies do not follow participants long after the intervention ends. At best, a few studies have followed their participants for up to two years. As a result, little is known about whether the effects of mindfulness-based interventions persist, strengthen, or fade over time. To address this limitation, de Vibe et al. [PLOS One] followed participants for six years after completing a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.

The researchers randomly assigned 288 Norwegian medical and psychology graduate students (76% female, average age = 24 years) to a slightly abridged form of MBSR or a no-intervention control. The MBSR program consisted of seven 1.5-hour weekly group sessions and required 20 minutes of daily home practice.

Participants were assessed on dispositional mindfulness (using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), subjective wellbeing, problem-focused coping and avoidance-focused coping at baseline, one month post-intervention, and at 1, 2, 4, and 6-year follow-up. Problem-focused coping involves facing one’s problems head-on by actively addressing them, while avoidance-focused coping consists of avoiding one’s problems or suppressing thoughts and emotions about them.

Participants also had the opportunity to enroll in a 1.5-hour mindfulness “booster” class each semester. While most attended at least one booster class, 46% never attended any. There were dropouts at each assessment time-point, with 61% of the participants having dropped out of the study by year six. There was no difference between MBSR and control group dropout rates, but participants with higher baseline avoidance-focused coping were significantly more likely to drop out.

Six-year longitudinal growth curves revealed that the MBSR participants showed significant continuing increases in mindfulness and problem–focused coping, with significant continuing decreases in avoidance-focused coping over time. MBSR rates […]

May 17th, 2018|News|

MBSR changes brain networks of opiate dependent patients

Posted 03.14.2018 | by AMRA

The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, with over 42,000 opioid overdose related deaths in 2016. There is a clear need for innovative approaches to help deal with the problems of substance dependency and misuse. Mindfulness-based interventions are sometimes used as adjunctive treatments for substance use disorders, but little is known about how these interventions affect the brains of substance users.

Fahmy et al. [Addictive Behaviors] used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to investigate brain changes in opiate dependent patients undergoing either treatment-as-usual (TAU), or treatment-as-usual plus Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

MRI data were analyzed to identify structural changes in the cellular networks connecting brain regions. The researchers limited their investigation to regions previously shown to be of interest in addiction and mindfulness research. They also looked at whether structural brain network changes were accompanied by meaningful changes in personality traits relevant to recovery and relapse.

The study followed 28 opiate dependent patients (average age = 30 years; 89% male) in a four-week inpatient substance treatment program in Cairo, Egypt. Half the participants were assigned to treatment as usual (TAU) and half to MBSR. Assignment was based on order of enrollment in the study and was not strictly random.

Nineteen participants completed their treatments and post-treatment evaluations. There was no difference in treatment dropout rates. TAU included medication and group cognitive behavioral therapy. The MBSR program was a culturally adopted Arabic-language version of MBSR. Participants completed the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI), self-reported measures of distress tolerance, sensation seeking, impulsivity, and addiction severity, and underwent MRI scanning before and after treatment.

MBSR participants showed significant strengthening in the brain networks connecting the prefrontal cortex […]

March 14th, 2018|News|

Elderly taking MBSR improve verbal recall and mental health

Posted 08.24.2017 | by AMRA

Elderly anxiety and depression sufferers often report subjective problems with memory and cognition. They also perform more poorly on objective measures of short-term memory, verbal fluency, and the ability to ignore irrelevant cues while focusing on a task. Stress can play an important role in worsening anxiety and depression and also in degrading cognitive function.

There is evidence that cortisol, a hormone secreted during stress, can have a harmful effect on brain cells in the hippocampus, which may in turn negatively affect memory and cognition. Reducing stress may therefore yield a double benefit: reducing anxiety and depression, and improving memory and cognition.

Wetherell et al. [Journal of Clinical Psychiatry] explored whether Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) could improve clinical symptoms and cognitive functioning better than a control group in elderly people suffering from anxiety and/or depression who also experience subjective cognitive difficulties.

The researchers randomly assigned 103 elderly patients (average age = 72 years; 75% Female; 83% Caucasian) with clinical diagnoses of anxiety and/or depressive disorders and with subjective cognitive complaints to either an 8-week group MBSR intervention or an 8-week Health Education control intervention. The Health Education groups met for the same frequency and duration as the MBSR groups, but focused on understanding and managing anxiety and depression, eating well, managing medications, and communicating with one’s heath care providers.

Patients were assessed at baseline, at the end of the intervention, and at 3-and-6-month follow-ups. Outcomes were assessed on measures of psychiatric symptoms, verbal memory, verbal fluency, the ability to ignore distracting cues and stay focused on a task, mindfulness (as measured by the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised), and average peak salivary cortisol.

Despite randomization, the health […]

August 24th, 2017|News|