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Mindfulness intervention supports eye health in glaucoma patients

Posted 10.23.2018 | by AMRA

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness that affects 65 million people worldwide. It is caused by increased fluid buildup inside of the eye (intraocular pressure) that results in progressive damage to the optic nerve. Psychological stress is known to increase several glaucoma risk factors (oxidative stress, inflammation, glutamate toxicity, and vascular dysregulation) while simultaneously reducing several protective factors (neurotrophins and glial activity). This finding has led some to wonder whether stress reduction interventions might benefit glaucoma patients.

Dada et al. [Journal of Glaucoma] conducted a randomized, controlled study to test if a mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) could reduce intraocular pressure and affect psychological stress-related biomarkers as well as alter gene expression in glaucoma patients.

The researchers randomly assigned 90 patients (average age = 57 years; 55% male) with moderate-to-severe glaucoma to either a MBI or a wait-list control group. MBI participants engaged in daily hour-long teacher-led group sessions for 21 consecutive days. The sessions included 15 minutes of slow-breathing exercises followed by 45 minutes of mindfulness meditation. Attrition rate was 18% in the MBI group and 7% in the wait-list control group.

Intraocular pressure was assessed pre- and post-intervention, as were biomarkers of psychological stress (cortisol and β-endorphins), inflammation (IL-6 and TNF-α), oxidative stress (the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants as measured by ROS and TAC), and a protein that protects nerve cells (BDNF). Whole blood RNA was assessed for post-intervention differences in gene expression, and participants completed the World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire.

MBI participants showed a significant 6 mmHg reduction in intraocular pressure, while controls only decreased by about 1 mmHg. Seventy-five percent of the participants who completed the MBI reduced […]

October 23rd, 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|

College students show less exam distress after mindfulness program

Posted 01.16.2018 | by AMRA

College life is accompanied by many stresses, but few exceed the stress of final exams week—a period of intensive “cramming,” all night study sessions, and fearful anticipation of final grades. It comes as no surprise that approximately half of all college students report a significant degree of test anxiety.

Galante et al. [Lancet Public Health] studied whether an eight-week mindfulness skills program might reduce students’ acute exam-related distress levels during final exams week.

The researchers randomly assigned 616 undergraduate and graduate students at Cambridge College, UK (62% female; 66% White; 92% age 17-30 years) to either an 8-week Mindfulness Skills for Students (MSS) program, or mental health support-as-usual group. Participants were prescreened to rule out severe mental health symptoms.

The MSS program consisted of eight 75-90 minute group sessions that included mindfulness meditation, periods of reflection and inquiry, and interactive exercises. MSS participants were encouraged to engage in 8-25 minutes of home practice daily.

Mental health support-as-usual consisted of access-as-needed to university counseling services and the National Health Service. No mental health services were offered to the support-as-usual group participants unless they actively sought help from these services on their own.

All participants were asked to complete a self-report distress measure and a wellness measure at post-intervention and again during final exams week. Following the completion of outcome measures, participants were offered monetary vouchers ($4.50 at post-intervention and $7.50 during exams week) that they could either pocket or contribute to charity. If MSS participants missed a session, they were contacted to discover whether they experienced any adverse consequences from participation in the intervention.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of MSS participants attended at least half of the MSS sessions, and […]

January 16th, 2018|News|

Body scan meditation during chemotherapy changes stress

Posted 05.18.2017 | by AMRA

Being diagnosed and treated for cancer can be highly stressful, and prolonged stress often alters the body’s normal stress response. For example, the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) secreted by the adrenal gland typically varies over the course of the day, peaking upon morning awakening and gradually diminishing throughout the day. Prolonged stress blunts this biological response so that the difference between morning and afternoon cortisol levels is much smaller.

Cancer survivors often show this kind of blunted cortisol response—reduced daily variation and reduced reactivity to stress. This blunting of stress reactivity is associated with greater disease progression and shorter survival times for many types of cancers. It’s possible that somehow preventing this blunting may improve patient outcomes. Prior research shows that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can limit cortisol blunting across the day in breast and prostate cancer patients.

Black et al. [Cancer] conducted a randomized, controlled test of whether a brief mindfulness activity could reduce the blunting of acute cortisol reactivity in colorectal cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy infusion.

The researchers randomly assigned 57 adults with colorectal cancer (average age = 54 years; 51% Male; 66% non-Hispanic, 33% Hispanic/Latino) who were undergoing chemotherapy infusion to one of three conditions: 1) a standard chemotherapy control group, 2) a chemotherapy + cancer education attention control group, and 3) a mindfulness meditation + cancer education group.

Saliva samples (to assess cortisol levels) were drawn four times during the hour-long chemotherapy infusion: at the start of infusion and at three 20-minute intervals thereafter. The patients also completed self-report measures of stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue during the past week, as well as general levels of mindfulness (using a short form […]

May 18th, 2017|News|

Parental mindfulness and stress response in mother-infant pairs

Posted 01.25.2017 | by AMRA

Dispositional mindfulness is the generalized tendency to be mindful in daily life, but mindfulness levels can also be situational. Parenting-specific mindfulness, for example, is mindfulness occurring within the context of parenting. It’s the tendency to be nonjudgmental, accepting and emotionally aware of and compassionate toward oneself and one’s child, and to be able to listen to one’s child with full attention. Parenting-specific mindfulness may benefit the parent-child relationship by helping parents and children cope with stress within the family relationship.

Laurent et al. [Developmental Psychology] tested this hypothesis by measuring the impact of both maternal dispositional mindfulness and parenting-specific mindfulness on maternal and infant stress hormone (cortisol) levels during and after exposure to a stressor.

The researchers recruited 73 low-income mother-infant pairs (77% Caucasian; average maternal age = 27; 51% married; median income=$10,000-$19,000) who were part of a larger longitudinal study. At 3 months postpartum, the mothers completed self-report measures of dispositional mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), parenting-specific mindfulness (Interpersonal Mindfulness in Parenting-Infant Version) and the degree of life stress during the prior three months.

At 6 months postpartum, the mother-infant pairs participated in a “still face” task in which the mother maintained an unwavering neutral facial expression while face-to-face with her infant for two full minutes. The mother’s failure to react to the infant’s attention-getting bids during this task is stressful for the infant, who striving to regain the mother’s attention and failing to do so, may start to whine or cry in response to not receiving attention.

Samples of maternal and infant saliva were obtained prior to, immediately after, and 15 and 45 minutes after the still face task. The saliva was assayed […]

January 25th, 2017|News|

Mindfulness training reduces smoking, brain mechanism uncovered

Posted 11.14.2016 | by AMRA

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Life expectancy of tobacco smokers is cut by 10 years, and smoking is responsible for nearly a half-million deaths in the United States each year. The vast majority of smokers want to quit, but unassisted attempts usually fail, and those that succeed often end in relapse. Studies show that acute stress increases both the likelihood of smoking and the risk of relapse. That is the reason why stress reduction techniques are often offered as a key component in smoking cessation programs.

Kober et al. [Neuroimage] investigated differences in the brain’s response to stress in cigarette smokers participating in one of two smoking cessation interventions: mindfulness training for smoking (MT) or the American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking (FFS) program.

The study reported on 23 adult smokers (average age = 48, 70% male, 58% Caucasian) who volunteered for a smoking cessation intervention. The participants were randomly assigned to either MT or FFS, and the relative success of these interventions was reported on in a separate publication (both interventions were effective, with MT participants demonstrating a greater improvement in smoking reduction). Both group interventions met twice a week over a four-week period. The MT program emphasized present-moment awareness and acceptance as strategies for coping with negative emotions and cravings and utilized mindfulness and loving-kindness meditations. The FFS program emphasized self-monitoring, identifying triggers, developing individualized quitting plans, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and cognitive-behavioral coping strategies.

The participants underwent functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (fMRI) immediately after smoking cessation treatment. The participants listened to recordings of individualized stressful and neutral scenarios during their brain scans. The individualized scenarios were developed based on actual stressful life events the participants had […]

November 14th, 2016|News|

Present-moment awareness during stress promotes confidence to cope

Posted 10.12.2016 | by AMRA

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Our everyday hassles — traffic jams, minor arguments with coworkers— can add up to significantly affect our overall sense of well-being. It’s possible that mindfulness may increase our resilience to the impact of these daily stressors. It may be that the more one is mindful during negative events, the greater one’s odds of responding wisely to them rather than merely reacting out of habit and emotion.

Donald et al. [Journal of Research in Personality] tested whether increased levels of present-moment awareness—one component of mindfulness—increased the likelihood of acting in accordance with one’s values and one’s sense of efficacy during stressful events. They measured these variables through self-ratings in the participants’ daily diaries.

The authors recruited 143 Australian university students and staff (average age = 34, 76% female, 74% Caucasian) to participate in the study, which was part of a larger study involving a mindfulness-based intervention (the interventional part of the study was not relevant to the results reported here.) Participants of both the intervention and wait-list control groups completed 20 daily diaries over a four-week period in which they selected the most challenging or stressful event of each day to report on.

They then rated six variables: 1) the degree of threat posed by the event, 2) the degree of their present-moment awareness during the event, 3) their confidence in being able to effectively handle the event, 4) the degree to which their response to the event was consistent with their values, 5) the degree to which they relied on distraction to take their mind off the event during the day, and 6) the extent of their negative emotions during the day. The researchers then […]

October 12th, 2016|News|

Online mindfulness program boosts employee wellness, not productivity

Posted 04.25.2016 | by AMRA

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Jobs can be a major source of stress. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can reduce stress, but employers may be reluctant to offer them due to time and cost concerns. Web-based MBIs may help to address such concerns, but research suggests participant engagement in online programs tends to be low. Allexandre, et al. [Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine] randomly assigned employees to a web-based MBI with and without group and clinical expert support in an effort to discover how to best improve web-based MBI engagement and outcomes for workers.

The researchers recruited 161 predominantly Caucasian (77%), female (83%) (average age = 40) debt collectors, customer service representatives, and fraud representatives from a pool of 900 employees working at a corporate call center in Ohio. These employees reported greater levels of stress and exhaustion than average American workers.

The employees were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions: 1) a web-based MBI, 2) a web-based MBI with group support, 3) a web-based MBI with both group and clinician support, and 4) a wait-list control. All three intervention conditions ran for 8 weeks and participants had access to both weekly online and weekly CD/MP3-delivered mindfulness lectures and guided meditations including a body scan, sitting, and lovingkindness meditation.

Group support consisted of small-to-medium sized practice-and-discussion groups which met weekly for one hour. All groups were employee-led, but the groups with clinician support met on three occasions with a licensed social worker or counselor who did not serve as a “mindfulness teacher” but discussed topics such as letting go, acceptance, non-judging, and compassion from a cognitive-behavioral perspective.

Participants were assessed on self-report measures of emotional wellbeing, vitality, stress, burnout, exhaustion, […]

April 25th, 2016|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|

Adding mindfulness to diet-exercise program helps people eat for the right reasons

Posted 03.18.2016 | by AMRA

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Adults who lose weight in diet-and-exercise lifestyle change programs usually regain weight after the program. This is often blamed on the ready availability of good tasting high calorie food along with stress and individual tendencies toward reward-driven eating. Reward-driven eating is eating that meets emotional rather than nutritional needs; it’s often accompanied by food cravings and preoccupations, poor control of eating despite motivation to lose weight, and insensitivity to sensations of fullness.

Mason et al. [Appetite] investigated the degree to which reward-driven eating and stress impacted weight loss in 158 obese participants (82% female, 59% White, average age = 47, average BMI = 35) who were randomly assigned to one of two diet and exercise interventions — one of which included mindfulness training and the other of which included progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skill training.

Both interventions met in groups for 17 sessions spaced over the course of 6 months. Both interventions used the same diet-and-exercise regimen: participants reduced their daily intake by 500 calories, engaged in structured aerobic and anaerobic exercise, and increased their daily general activity.

The mindfulness intervention taught sitting, walking, and lovingkindness meditation and mindful yoga, and promoted awareness of hunger, fullness, taste, food cravings, and eating triggers. The comparison intervention taught progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skills as well as provided additional didactic instruction on nutrition and exercise.

Participants were weighed and assessed on self-reported reward-driven eating and perceived stress at baseline and 6, 12, and 18 months after baseline. The mindfulness group lost approximately 4.4 pounds more than the comparison group, but that difference didn’t reach statistical significance.

The mindfulness group experienced a significantly greater decrease in reward-driven eating than the […]

March 18th, 2016|News|