aking a deep breath may do more than put your mind at ease — it may ease inflammation.
In a new study published in the January 2013 issue of Brain, Behavior and Immunity, neuroscientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison report that mindfulness meditation techniques, defined as a constant focus on breathing, bodily sensations, and mental relaxation, relieved inflammatory symptoms brought on by stress.
The researchers used different health regimens aimed at reducing stress on two separate groups of subjects. One group participated in the campus Health Enhancement Program, which combined nutritional education with exercise and music therapy. The other group participated in a health-boosting program with a mindfulness meditation approach. Both programs required the same amount of training, instructor expertise, and home practice.
Psychological stress was then induced on both groups using a tool called the Trier Social Stress Test, with capsaicin cream used to induce inflammation on the skin. The scientists then collected immune and endocrine measures. They found that the health program with the mindfulness meditation-based approach was more effective in lowering stress-induced inflammation.
“This is not a cure-all, 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,” said Melissa Rosenkranz, PhD, assistant scientist at the center and lead author on the paper, in a press release.
Despite the fact that mindfulness mediation is a staple of alternative health, particularly with conditions involving chronic pain, little scientific evidence supports direct medical benefits of meditation and mindfulness. By including mindfulness meditation with an existing health regimen that already included social support and interaction, the UW scientists were able to show specific benefits of mindfulness meditation, according to the release.
Psychological stress is a common trigger for inflammation associated with chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. A continuous cycle of stress and flares can make living with RA a challenge. And while doctors often prescribe medication and lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet to help manage rheumatoid arthritis, mindfulness meditation may enhance the benefits.
“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,” Rosenkranz said in the release.