WASHINGTON: Meditation has the potential to reduce some risk factors for heart disease when practiced alongside a healthy lifestyle and medical treatment, US experts say.
Studies have shown that meditation can have long-term effects on the brain and how it works, and numerous studies on the potential benefits of meditation have been published.
Researchers from the American Heart Association reviewed studies to determine whether the practice has a role in reducing heart disease.
Although the practice of meditation dates back as far as 5000 BC and is associated with certain philosophies and religions, meditation is increasingly practiced as a secular and therapeutic activity.
A team of cardiovascular disease experts reviewed existing research on whether common types of sitting meditation had an impact on cardiovascular risk factors and disease.
The review excluded studies on combination mind-body practices, such as yoga and Tai Chi, since the physical activity included in these practices has an established positive impact on heart disease risk.
Researchers looked at studies of sitting meditation, including common forms such as Vipassana (Insight Meditation), Mindful Meditation, Zen Meditation (Zazen), Raja Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, and Relaxation Response.
The findings showed that meditation may be associated with decreased levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and improved quality of sleep and overall well-being.
It may help lower blood pressure, although there is not enough evidence to determine whether or how much it may lower blood pressure in a given individual.
Meditation may also help individuals stop smoking, and is associated with a decreased risk of heart attack.
"Although studies of meditation suggest a possible benefit on cardiovascular risk, there hasn't been enough research to conclude it has a definite role," said Glenn N Levine, chair of the writing group of the AHA Scientific Statement that is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
"Since education on how to meditate is widely available and meditation has little if any risk associated with it, interested people may want to use these techniques, in addition to established medical and lifestyle interventions, as a possible way to lower heart disease risk," said Levine.
"However, it is important that people understand that the benefits remain to be better established and that meditation is not a substitute for traditional medical care," said Levine, who is a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
Levine notes that the mainstay for the prevention and treatment of heart disease remains lifestyle advice and medical treatment that has been carefully studied and shown to work, including cholesterol therapy, blood pressure control, smoking cessation and regular physical activity.