Meditation Lowers Blood Pressure
Daily practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM) may lower blood pressure and decrease the need for antihypertensive (blood pressure–lowering) medications among African-Americans with high blood pressure (hypertension), reports a study in the American Journal of Hypertension (2005;18:88–98). During meditation, deep relaxation is attained by allowing conscious thoughts to drift away while maintaining a state of restful alertness.
Hypertension is a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. African-Americans are more likely than whites to suffer from severe hypertension, resulting in higher rates of stroke, heart attacks, and kidney damage. Poor diet, excess salt intake, alcohol use, obesity, smoking, heredity, and stress can all contribute to hypertension. African-Americans appear to be particularly susceptible to the blood pressure–raising effect of stress.
Medications used to treat hypertension may include beta-blockers (atenolol [Tenormin™]), ACE inhibitors (captopril [Capoten™]), calcium channel blockers (nifedipine [Procardia™]), and diuretics (hydrochlorothiazide). In many cases these medications can lower blood pressure, but adverse effects including insomnia (atenolol), skin rash (captopril), constipation (nifedipine), and muscle cramps (hydrochlorothiazide) can make it difficult to continue treatment.
Stress reduction techniques such as TM and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) may be useful for lowering blood pressure. PMR involves alternately tensing and relaxing the major muscle groups of the body in order to achieve a state of relaxation. Previously, a three-month study showed that TM was superior to PMR in its ability to lower blood pressure among older African-Americans. The new year-long study compared the long-term effects of these stress reduction techniques with that of a health education program in 150 African-American adults (average age 49) with hypertension.
Participants were assigned to a TM, PMR, or health education group. Following a training period, participants in the TM and PMR groups were instructed to practice the assigned technique for 20 minutes two times per day. The health education group received information about how diet, weight loss, exercise, and smoking cessation can help decrease blood pressure. The participants continued their usual prescription medications, although dosage adjustments were made based on changes in blood pressure during the study.
Antihypertensive medication use was recorded, and systolic and diastolic blood pressures were measured at the beginning of the study and 3, 6, 9, and 12 months after treatment began. (For example, in a blood pressure reading of 130/80, the top number is the systolic blood pressure and the bottom number is the diastolic pressure.)
TM decreased diastolic blood pressure significantly more than either PMR or health education. In addition, the TM participants needed less antihypertensive medication over the course of the study, whereas the PMR and health education group participants actually needed to increase their medication. There were no significant differences in blood pressure between the PMR and health education groups.
Meditation appears to be a useful adjunct to drug therapy for treating hypertension. TM may decrease the need for antihypertensive medications, reducing the risk of adverse effects and lowering the cost of treatment.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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