woman meditating on beach

Mindfulness Meditation and Chronic Disease Management

Mindfulness meditation is not only good for stress-reduction, it has a plethora of other health benefits. Many illnesses can be mitigated, if not completely managed, through a consistent meditation practice. It is a powerful “self-healing" tool that is fairly easy to implement.

Meditation has been shown to have positive changes that can actually affect function and structure in the brain. In addition, it may improve other markers of health and well-being, some of which are discussed below.

For those wondering if meditation may help you, I’ve provided a short summary of some of the research that has been done to show its benefits in the following conditions:

Immune health

Stress has a large impact on the immune system. Auto-immune conditions (ie. the immune system “attacking” the body) are typically managed through pharmaceutical medications. Natural medicines can also help modulate and improve immune function, but addressing the mind and spirit is key. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to help lower markers such as the main stress hormone, cortisol, in addition to lowering inflammatory markers often implicated in auto-immune conditions, such as TNF-alpha and C-reactive protein (1).

For those who are susceptible to recurrent infections, Mindfulness Meditation can be very effective. In fact, a 9-month randomized controlled study including 154 adults showed a decreased incidence, severity and duration of upper respiratory illnesses such as colds and flus with such meditation (2).

Chronic pain and depression

Mindfulness meditation may significantly decrease chronic pain as well as depression (3). The prefrontal cortex plays a role in depression while it also modulates and can lower pain perception, mainly through dopamine. Meditation is one of the activities that stimulate this area, which is why it can be so effective (4).

Similarly, people with diagnosed fibromyalgia benefit from meditation and other activities that help them practice “acceptance, non-attachment, and social engagement” (5).

Type 2 Diabetes and Hypertension

An 8-week study with 49 participants showed that those attending mindfulness classes twice weekly had significant health improvements, including lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and inflammatory markers over the control group, who attended a health education class. Participants practicing meditation also showed increases in focus, confidence, relaxation, and happiness; decreases in fatigue, anger, and loneliness (6).

Other Conditions 

Anxiety, sleep problems, and fatigue are among other conditions that mindfulness meditation may help manage (6).

With all the promising benefits of meditation that have been shown thus far, it would be wonderful to see more research with documented clinical success. However, if you are willing to implement a consistent practice, you may cultivate your own "self-healing" experience!

Resources

  1. Pascoe, M.C., Thompson, D.R., Jenkins, Z.M. and Ski, C.F., 2017. Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of psychiatric research95, pp.156-178.
  2. Barrett, B., Hayney, M. S., Muller, D., Rakel, D., Ward, A., Obasi, C. N., … & West, R. (2012). Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection: a randomized controlled trial. The Annals of Family Medicine10(4), 337-346.
  3. Hilton, L., Hempel, S., Ewing, B.A., Apaydin, E., Xenakis, L., Newberry, S., Colaiaco, B., Maher, A.R., Shanman, R.M., Sorbero, M.E. and Maglione, M.A., 2016. Mindfulness meditation for chronic pain: systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine51(2), pp.199-213.
  4. Ong, W.Y., Stohler, C.S. and Herr, D.R., 2019. Role of the prefrontal cortex in pain processing. Molecular neurobiology56(2), pp.1137-1166.
  5. Adler-Neal, A.L. and Zeidan, F., 2017. Mindfulness meditation for fibromyalgia: mechanistic and clinical considerations. Current rheumatology reports19(9), p.59.
  6. Lee, S.H., Hwang, S.M., Kang, D.H. and Yang, H.J., 2019. Brain education-based meditation for patients with hypertension and/or type 2 diabetes: A pilot randomized controlled trial. Medicine98(19), p.e15574.