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    You are here : Home » MS Research News » Complementary Therapies » Meditation


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    Mindfulness meditation may ease fatigue, depression in MS

    MeditationLearning mindfulness meditation may help people who have multiple sclerosis (MS) with the fatigue, depression and other life challenges that commonly accompany the disease, according to a study published in the September 28, 2010, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

    In the study, people who took an eight-week class in mindfulness meditation training reduced their fatigue and depression and improved overall quality of life compared to people with MS who received only usual medical care. The positive effects continued for at least six months.

    "People with MS must often confront special challenges of life related to profession, financial security, recreational and social activities, and personal relationships, not to mention the direct fears associated with current or future physical symptoms and disability. Fatigue, depression and anxiety are also common consequences of having MS." said study author Paul Grossman, PhD, of the University of Basel Hospital in Switzerland. "Unfortunately, the treatments that help slow the disease process may have little direct effect on people's overall quality of life, fatigue or depression. So any complementary treatments that can quickly and directly improve quality of life are very welcome."

    For the study, 150 people with mild to moderate MS were randomly assigned to receive either the eight-week meditation training or only usual medical care for MS. The class focused on mental and physical exercises aimed at developing nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, or mindfulness. The training included weekly classes lasting two and a half hours, plus one all-day retreat and 40 minutes per day of homework assignments.

    "MS is an unpredictable disease," Grossman said. "People can go for months feeling great and then have an attack that may reduce their ability to work or take care of their family. Mindfulness training can help those with MS better to cope with these changes. Increased mindfulness in daily life may also contribute to a more realistic sense of control, as well as a greater appreciation of positive experiences that continue be part of life."

    Participants in the mindfulness program showed extremely good attendance rates (92%) and reported high levels of satisfaction with the training. Furthermore, very few (5%) dropped out of the course before completion. Those who went through the mindfulness program improved in nearly every measure of fatigue, depression and quality of life, while those who received usual medical care declined slightly on most of the measures. For example, those with mindfulness training reduced their depressive symptoms by over 30 percent compared to those with no training.

    Improvements among mindfulness participants were particularly large for those who showed significant levels of depression or fatigue at the beginning of the study. About 65 percent of participants showed evidence of serious levels of depression, anxiety or fatigue at the start of the study, and this risk group was reduced by a third at the end of training and six months later.

    The other benefits of the training were also still apparent six months after the training ended, although they were sometimes reduced compared to right after finishing the training. Reductions in fatigue, however, were stable from the end of treatment to six months later.

    An accompanying editorial pointed out that because there was not an active control group (using a different type of intervention), it is unclear that the good results were specifically a result of mindfulness training. However, the editorialists noted that the present study was the largest of its type, and was well-conducted.

    The study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Stanley T. Johnson Foundation, the Swiss Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, Sanofi-Aventis, Merck Serono and Biogen Dompé.

    Source: Science News (28/09/10)

    Eyes of the mind
    MeditationCan dynamic meditation really help the body to heal itself? An American psychologist and researcher believes so.

    There is only so much that modern medicine can do, and perhaps that is why more and more people are turning to complementary medicine and alternative methods of healing. Some holistic approaches to healing include visualisation and guided imagery techniques. These techniques are found in many of the world’s cultures, and are said to have been used by ancient civilisations.

    It is believed that the mind has immense influence on the body, and if the images in the mind can be controlled and directed, then the body can be made to heal itself.

    Visualisation is widely used by athletes, intentionally or otherwise. Some famous people such as Dale Carnegie and Stephen Covey believed that imagery can be used to maximise performance.

    Studies done in universities across the United States over the years have shown guided imagery to be effective in relieving stress, boosting immunity, and also alleviating depression.

    These techniques are also used in what is known as dynamic meditation, and Dr Aretoula Fullam, a psychologist who has trained in clinical mind-body medicine in Harvard, believes that dynamic meditation is fast becoming accepted even in scientific circles.

    Fullam herself has done studies on patients with multiple sclerosis who used dynamic meditation to get rid of the symptoms of the disease. She is currently a Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School.

    “Thank goodness that we have arrived at a point where we recognise that we cannot omit the spirit or the mind. We realise and recognise that the human being is not just a bunch of bones and flesh,” said Fullam on a recent visit to Kuala Lumpur. “In the United States, there is a branch called the Institute of Complementary and Alternative Medicine that offers funds for furthering our understanding of how alternative forms of medicine and meditation can help individuals to be more healthy, and to bring harmony to their being.”

    Fullam began her studies with MS patients after she started reading about the disease. She discovered one common element in all the research done on the disease – stress.

    Very little is understood about MS, but what is largely known is that the fatty tissue called myelin, which protects the nerve fibres, comes under attack, and this affects the central nervous system. Communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted, and this results in symptoms such as blurred vision, muscle weakness and loss of memory, balance and coordination. Although MS is thought to be an auto-immune disease, its causes are still open to debate and there is still no cure for it.

    “The question that I was asking, that was puzzling me, was ‘What is causing the immune system to go out of control?’” said Fullam. “In all the literature of studies that I read, the common elements were stress, insomnia, anxiety, depression, memory problems and difficulties in learning. And all those things can be dealt with by teaching people how to relax. And that’s what started my project.”

    Fullam first studied dynamic meditation in the 1990s. During her first fellowship in medical school in New Jersey, she began studying people with MS. When she started another fellowship in Harvard University, she was in the sleep disorder programme dealing with mind-body medicine and alternative methods of healing.

    “I found out that psychological factors and stress can influence our health and immune system,” she explained. “And we have 100 years of research that shows just that. What puzzled me was that for over 100 years, stress was considered a critical factor in the onset and progression of MS, yet there were no studies done to help these patients or teach them stress management techniques. Only in the last 10 years did they start alluding to the fact that maybe there is a relationship between stress and MS.”

    Dynamic meditation involves guidance on how to achieve physical relaxation. Fullam said those who practise it can turn their awareness inward and are able to concentrate awareness on all parts of their body and relieve the pressure and tension that exist.

    “You imagine that the pressure is going away, and feel the tingling sensation,” she said. “After that, it’s mental relaxation by imagining that you are in an ideal place of relaxation. At the same time, you are relaxing through repetition. I teach people how to go ‘in’ and, from within, how to spread out.”

    Patients are also taught techniques of visualisation and imagination. In the case of any disease, they use a mental screen on which to project the problem area. Then they use their imagination to correct the problem and create the solution.

    “Research has shown that whether you’re objectively experiencing something or imagining something, the same part of the brain is activated,” Fullam explained. “So the brain, in other words, does not know the difference between the real and the imagined. It just follows your instructions, and starts working on manifesting that thing that you want. And that’s how the improvements occur.”

    Fullam related one of the success stories she has had, where a patient who had MS for 20 years learned dynamic meditation and was able to reverse the effects of his illness. He stopped using a scooter to move around and eventually went back to using a walker.

    “But this is not something that can be done overnight,” said Fullam. “And I’ve not heard of any other medication or treatment that can reverse the effects of primary progressive type of multiple sclerosis. For me, that was an amazing result.”

    Source: thestaronline Copyright © 1995-2005 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd (09/05/07)

    Meditation Aids Immune System

    Meditation can improve the immune system and aid positive thinking. Scientists found that volunteers who meditated for a short time every week showed lower anxiety levels than those who did not.

    They also had higher levels of antibody levels in their blood, suggesting they would be more able to fight infection.

    Ref: Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine

    Meditation Helps Immune Function

    A US study has found for the first time that meditation produced lasting positive results in both the brain and the function of the immune system.

    The findings suggest that meditation, long promoted as a technique to reduce anxiety and stress, might produce important biological effects.

    The researchers used "mindfulness meditation", which is often recommended as an antidote to the stress and pain of chronic disease. It is designed to focus one's attention intensely on the moment, noting thoughts and feelings as they occur but refraining from judging or acting on them.

    Ref: University of Wisconsin-Madison February 2003

    A person meditating

    In New Pathways (issue 14) there was news about the potential for the hormone DHEA to treat MS. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is one of the body's most important hormones, the most abundant hormone in young adults. It declines with age.

    However, a controlled study has shown that DHEA increases in people who practise Transcendental Meditation. Depending on age, people who practised TM had DHEA levels as high as people 5 to 10 years younger.

    Ref: 1 Glazer JL Journal of Behavioural Medicine 1992 15(4): 327-341

    New Pathways magazine
    'Mindfulness meditation' improves brain and immune function

    Original Source: University Of Wisconsin-Madison
    Date Posted: 04 Feb 2003

    University Of Wisconsin Study Reports Sustained Changes In Brain And Immune Function After Meditation

    In a small but highly provocative study, a University of Wisconsin-Madison research team has found, for the first time, that a short program in "mindfulness meditation" produced lasting positive changes in both the brain and the function of the immune system.

    The findings suggest that meditation, long promoted as a technique to reduce anxiety and stress, might produce important biological effects that improve a person's resiliency. Richard Davidson, Ph.D., Vilas Professor of psychology and psychiatry at UW-Madison, led the research team.

    The study, conducted at the biotechnology company Promega near Madison, will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. "Mindfulness meditation," often recommended as an antidote to the stress and pain of chronic disease, is a practice designed to focus one's attention intensely on the moment, noting thoughts and feelings as they occur but refraining from judging or acting on those thoughts and feelings. The intent is to deepen awareness of the present, develop skills of focused attention, and cultivate positive emotions such as compassion. In the UW study, participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups.

    The experimental group, with 25 subjects, received training in mindfulness meditation from one of its most noted adherents, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. (Kabat-Zinn, a popular author of books on stress reduction, developed the mindfulness-based stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.) This group attended a weekly class and one seven-hour retreat during the study; they also were assigned home practice for an hour a day, six days a week.

    The 16 members of the control group did not receive meditation training until after the study was completed. For each group, in addition to asking the participants to assess how they felt, the research team measured electrical activity in the frontal part of the brain, an area specialized for certain kinds of emotion. Earlier research has shown that, in people who are generally positive and optimistic and during times of positive emotion, the left side of this frontal area becomes more active than the right side does.

    The findings confirmed the researchers' hypothesis: the meditation group showed an increase of activation in the left-side part of the frontal region. This suggests that the meditation itself produced more activity in this region of the brain. This activity is associated with lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state. The research team also tested whether the meditation group had better immune function than the control group did.

    All the study participants got a flu vaccine at the end of the eight-week meditation group. Then, at four and eight weeks after vaccine administration, both groups had blood tests to measure the level of antibodies they had produced against the flu vaccine. While both groups (as expected) had developed increased antibodies, the meditation group had a significantly larger increase than the controls, at both four and eight weeks after receiving the vaccine. "Although our study is preliminary and more research clearly is warranted," said Davidson, "we are very encouraged by these results.

    The Promega employees who took part have given us a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate a real biological impact of this ancient practice." Davidson, who is integrally involved with the Health Emotions Research Institute at UW, plans further research on the impact of meditation. He is currently studying a group of people who have been using meditation for more than 30 years. His research team is also planning to study the impact of mindfulness meditation on patients with particular illnesses.

    © Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre (MSRC)

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