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Objective: To provide a descriptive overview of the clinical trials assessing meditation practices for health care.Design: Systematic review of the literature. Comprehensive searches were conducted in 17 electronic bibliographic databases through September 2005. Other sources of potentially relevant studies included hand searches, reference tracking, contacting experts, and gray literature searches. Included studies were clinical trials with 10 or more adult participants using any meditation practice, providing quantitative data on health-related outcomes, and published in English. Two independent reviewers assessed study relevance, extracted the data, and assessed the methodological quality of the studies.Results: Four hundred clinical trials on meditation (72% described as randomized) were included in the review (publication years 1956–2005). Five broad categories of meditation practices were identified: mantra meditation, mindfulness meditation, yoga, t'ai chi, and qigong. The three most studied clinical conditions were hypertension, miscellaneous cardiovascular diseases, and substance abuse. Psychosocial measures were the most frequently reported outcomes. Outcome measures of psychiatric and psychological symptoms dominate the outcomes of interest. Overall, the methodological quality of clinical trials is poor, but has significantly improved over time by 0.014 points every year (95% CI, 0.005, 0.023).Conclusions: Most clinical trials on meditation practices are generally characterized by poor methodological quality with significant threats to validity in every major quality domain assessed. Despite a statistically significant improvement in the methodological quality over time, it is imperative that future trials on meditation be rigorous in design, execution, analysis, and the reporting of results.

Previous research indicates that long-term meditation practice is associated with altered resting electroencephalogram patterns, suggestive of long lasting changes in brain activity. We hypothesized that meditation practice might also be associated with changes in the brain’s physical structure. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to assess cortical thickness in 20 participants with extensive Insight meditation experience, which involves focused attention to internal experiences. Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula. Between-group differences in prefrontal cortical thickness were most pronounced in older participants, suggesting that meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning. Finally, the thickness of two regions correlated with meditation experience. These data provide the first structural evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice.

The relaxation response (RR) is the counterpart of the stress response. Millennia-old practices evoking the RR include meditation, yoga and repetitive prayer. Although RR elicitation is an effective therapeutic intervention that counteracts the adverse clinical effects of stress in disorders including hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and aging, the underlying molecular mechanisms that explain these clinical benefits remain undetermined. To assess rapid time-dependent (temporal) genomic changes during one session of RR practice among healthy practitioners with years of RR practice and also in novices before and after 8 weeks of RR training, we measured the transcriptome in peripheral blood prior to, immediately after, and 15 minutes after listening to an RR-eliciting or a health education CD. Both short-term and long-term practitioners evoked significant temporal gene expression changes with greater significance in the latter as compared to novices. RR practice enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways. Interactive network analyses of RR-affected pathways identified mitochondrial ATP synthase and insulin (INS) as top upregulated critical molecules (focus hubs) and NF-κB pathway genes as top downregulated focus hubs. Our results for the first time indicate that RR elicitation, particularly after long-term practice, may evoke its downstream health benefits by improving mitochondrial energy production and utilization and thus promoting mitochondrial resiliency through upregulation of ATPase and insulin function. Mitochondrial resiliency might also be promoted by RR-induced downregulation of NF-κB-associated upstream and downstream targets that mitigates stress.

CONTEXT:Mindfulness-based programs have been primarily used to target anxiety or the prevention of relapse in recurrent depression; however, limited research has been conducted on the use of mindfulness programs for relief of current depressive symptoms. OBJECTIVE: To investigate the potential effect of resilience training (RT) on symptom relief for current or recurrent depression, and other psychological/behavioral outcomes. DESIGN: Wait-list comparison pilot study. SETTING: Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, Allina Health, Minneapolis, MN. PARTICIPANTS: A total of 40 actively working healthcare professionals age 18-65 years. INTERVENTION: RT is an eight-week mindfulness-based program that synergizes elements of mindfulness meditation with nutrition and exercise. The first 20 consecutive individuals meeting all eligibility criteria were assigned to the RT group. The next 20 consecutive eligible individuals were placed into the wait-list control group and had an eight-week waiting period before starting the RT program. OUTCOME MEASURES: Psychological/behavioral outcomes were measured before and after completion of the RT program and two months after completion. Wait-list participants also had measures taken just before starting on the wait-list. RESULTS: The RT group exhibited a 63-70% (P ≤ .01) reduction in depression, a 48% (P ≤ .01) reduction in stress, a 23% (P ≤ .01) reduction in trait anxiety, and a 52% (P ≤ .01) reduction in presenteeism (a per-employee savings of $1846 over the eight-week program). All outcomes were statistically significantly different from the wait-list group. Most improvements persisted up to two months after completion of the RT program. CONCLUSIONS: Further replication with a larger sample size, and enhanced control group is warranted.