Below are some examples of studies showing the benefits of mindfulness meditation. For a comprehensive database of the evidence base for mindfulness, go to the Mindfulness Research Guide.

Mindfulness and mental health

Trials have shown that patients who have suffered more than two episodes of depression are twice as likely to stay well in the year after a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy course as those who have not received MBCT. (1) Based on these trials, the National Institute For Clinical Evidence, which advises on which treatments should be given on the NHS, has recommended that MBCT be made available.

In a recent survey, 72 per cent of GPs said they thought it would be helpful for their patients with mental health problems to learn mindfulness meditation (69 per cent also thought it would be useful for their patients in general). However, only one in 20 GPs said they referred their patients to MBCT ‘very often’, and more than two-thirds said they rarely or never did so. This may be because only a fifth of GPs have access to courses they can direct their patients to. (2)

Mindfulness-based stress reduction has been shown to have a significant impact on anxiety levels. In one US inner-city trial, participants’ anxiety levels fell by 70 per cent after they took the course, and their medical symptoms reduced by 44 per cent – they also visited theirdoctor much less often. (3) The effects seem to be long-lasting – another trial found that not only did participants get less anxious during and after the course, but they were still feeling the benefits three years later. (4). Mindfulness-based treatments have also been used successfully for people with other mental health problems, including borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social phobia. (2)

81 per cent of us agree that ‘the fast pace of life and the number of things we have to do and worry about these days is a major cause of stress, unhappiness and illness in our society,’ while 86 per cent agree that ‘people would be much happier and healthier if they knew how to slow down and live in the moment.' (2)

Mindfulness and physical health

Compared to control groups, clinical pain patients have reported feeling less pain at the end of an MBSR course, as well as being less restricted by their pain. 65 per cent of patients who don't respond to standard medical treatments are less troubled by pain after learning mindfulness. (7,8)

Mindfulness can help people manage physical illnesses, including cancer. One study followed 38 women who took a mindfulness course after they’d had surgery for breast cancer, andfound that the women who took the course had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and that their immune systems recovered more quickly than 31 women who did not take the course – they showed a higher level of what is called 'natural killer cell activity’. Natural killer cells can recognise and destroy cancer cells – the more active they are, the better the chance of being able to completely clear the cancer, and prevent it from returning. (5)

Another small study examined the effects of mindfulness meditation on the immune systems of 48 people with HIV.13 They measured the patients’ levels of CD4 T cells, which help coordinate the immune system when it has to respond to a threat - these are the cells that the HIV virus destroys. Levels of CD4 T cells in participants who had eight weeks of mindfulness training remained constant during the course, compared to a control group whose CD4 T cell count dropped. Those participants who did the most mindfulness practice during the period of the course showed the greatest benefit to their immune systems. (6)

Mindfulness training has also been associated with improvements in patients with stress-related conditions such as psoriasis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. (21,2)

Mindfulness and addictions

In a trial of mindfulness among 18 women with a diagnosis of binge-eating disorder, the average number of weekly binges dropped from four to between one andtwo, while only four of the participants continued to show symptoms severe enough to be classed as binge-eating disorder. The women also reported feeling less depressed and anxious. (9)

A study conducted bythe University of Washington team to evaluate the impact of a 10-day mindfulness intensive offered to inmates recently released from prison found that, three months after the course, those who had taken part took far fewer drugs and drank far less alcohol than a control group who didn’t. (10)

A trial of mindfulness-based stress-reduction for a group of smokers trying to quit found that of 13 participants, only three had relapsed 6 weeks after the course . This compares to a previous group of would-be quitters who were given just counselling and in which only 33 per cent stayed smoke-free after 6 weeks. (11)

Mindfulness at work and school

Among participants in a mindfulness-based programme offered to workers at Transport For London, days off sick due to stress, depression and anxiety fell by over 70 per cent in the following three years (absences for all health conditions were halved). Participants on the course also reported improvements in their quality of life – 80 per cent said their relationships had got better, 79 per cent said they were moreable to relax, and 53 per cent said they were happier in their jobs. (2) In another study of mindfulness training in the workplace, the course resulted in participants feeling more positive, more energetic, more engaged in their work and less stressed. (12)

Mindfulness training for doctors has been shown to reduce burnout and exhaustion, and also increased the physicians’ ability to be empathetic with their patients. (13) Two-thirds (64 per cent) of GPs would like to receive training in mindfulness. (2)

Early research of mindfulness training for schoolchildren has suggested it may significantly reduce problems such as anxiety and depression, as well as attention span difficulties. (14, 15)

Mindfulness in relationships

A mindfulness-based programme for couples has shown it improves their relationship satisfaction, levels of closeness and acceptance of each other, and decreases their levels of relationship distress. (16). The ability to let go and be present whichmindfulness cultivates is even being used to enhance people’s sex lives – one study has found that women who practise mindfulness report greater arousal and better orgasms. (17, 18). There is also preliminary evidence for mindfulness to play a role in helping reduce stress during pregnancy. (19)

Mindfulness and the brain

Mindfulness training has been shown to shift activity in the brain from the right prefrontal cortex to the left prefrontal cortex. Greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex is associated with a more positive mood, while greater activity in the right is associated with states such as depression. (12)

Researchers at Harvard used MRI scans to look at the brains of people who had practised mindfulness meditation for many years, and found that areas of the brain associated with attention and sensory processing were thicker than in people who had never meditated, with the difference in cortical thickness greatest in those subjects who had been meditating the longest. The results seem to suggest that mental training in mindfulness might have actually bulked up the meditators’ brains, just as a programme of physical training can bulk up the muscles of the body. They have also found that a key part of the limbic system – the amygdala, which is sometimes called the brain’s fear centre – became smaller in the brains of people who practised mindfulness meditation. (20)

References

1. J D Teasdale, Z V Segal, J M G Williams et al. (2000). ‘Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy’, Journal of

Consulting and Clinical Psychology 68: 61523

2. Mental Health Foundation (2010). Mindfulness Report (London: Mental Health

Foundation)

3.B Roth and T Creaser (1997). ‘Mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction: experience with a bilingual inner-city program’, Nurse Practitioner 5: 215

4. J Kabat-Zinn et al. (1992). ‘Effectiveness of ameditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders’, American Journal of Psychiatry 149: 93643

5. L Witek-Janusek (2008). ‘Effect of mindfulness-basedstress reduction on immune function, quality of life and coping in women newly diagnosed with early stage

breast cancer’, Brain, Behavior and Immunity 22(6): 96881

6. J D Creswell et al. (2009). ‘Mindfulness meditation training effects on CD4+ T lymphocytes in HIV-1 infected adults: A small randomized controlled trial’, Brain, Behavior and Immunity23(2): 18488J

7. Kabat-Zinn (1982).‘An outpatient program in behavioural medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of Mindfulness meditation: theoretical considerations and preliminary results’, General Hospital Psychiatry 4(1): 334

8. L M McCracken, J Gauntlett-Gilbert and K E Vowles (2007). ‘The role of Mindfulness in a contextual cognitive behavioral analysis of chronic pain-related suffering and disability’, Pain131: 636

9. J L Kristeller, R A Baer and R Quillian-Wolever (2006).‘Mindfulness-based approaches to eating disorders’, in R A Baer (ed) (2005). Mindfulness-based Treatment Approaches: Clinician’s Guide to Evidence Base and Applications (San Diego: Academic Press): 7593

10. S Bowen et al. (2006). ‘Mindfulness Meditation and Substance Use in an Incarcerated Population’, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 20(3): 34347

11. J M Davis (2007). ‘A pilot study on mindfulness based stress reduction for smokers’, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 7: 2

12. R J Davidson et al. (2003). ‘Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation’, Psychosomatic Medicine 65: 56470

13. M S Krasner et al. (2009). ‘Association of an Educational Program in Mindful Communication with Burnout, Empathy, and Attitudes Among Primary Care

Physicians’, Journal of the American Medical Association 302(12): 128493

14. R J Semple, J Lee, L F Miller (2006). ‘Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children’, in R A Baer (ed) (2005). Mindfulness-based Treatment Approaches: Clinician’s

Guide to Evidence Base and Applications (San Diego: Academic Press): 14365

15. C A Burke (2009). ‘Mindfulness-Based Approaches with Children and Adolescents: A Preliminary Review of Current Research in an Emergent Field’, Journal of Child

and Family Studies, available at http://www.springerlink. com/content/e1638088141n327m/

16. J W Carson, K M Carson, K M Gil et al. (2006). ‘Mindfulness-based relationship enhancement (MBRE) in couples’, in R A Baer (ed) (2005). Mindfulness-based Treatment Approaches: Clinician’s Guide to Evidence Base and Applications (San Diego: Academic Press):

30929

17. L A Brotto et al. (2008). ‘Eastern approaches for enhancing women’s sexuality: Mindfulness, acupuncture, and yoga’, Journal of Sexual Medicine 5: 2741–48; see also D

Goldmeier and A J Mears (2010).

18. ‘Meditation: A Review of its Use in Western Medicine and, in Particular, its

Role in the Management of Sexual Dysfunction’, Current Psychiatry Reviews 6(1): 11–14

19. C Vieten and J Astin (2008). ‘Effects of a Mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy on prenatal stress and mood: results of a pilot study’, Archives of Women’s Mental Health 1(1): 6774

20. S Lazar et al. (2005). ‘Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness’, Neuroreport 16(17): 189397

21. J Kabat-Zinn et al. (1998). ‘Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA)’, Psychosomatic Medicine

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