MONDAY, May 9 (HealthDay News) -- A simple meditation technique
can help ease the torment suffered by people with a chronic bowel
disease, a new study has found.
The research, done at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill, found that women with irritable bowel syndrome who practiced
"mindful meditation" had more than a 38 percent reduction in
symptoms, far surpassing a nearly 12 percent reduction for women
who participated in a traditional support group.
Moreover, meditation helped reduce psychological distress and
improved quality of life, the study found.
One of the study authors said the practice, based on a Buddhist
meditative technique, "empowers" patients to deal with an illness
that is difficult to treat.
"It's not easy to treat IBS [irritable bowel syndrome], even with the best standard medical approaches," said study co-author Olafur Palsson, an associate professor, clinical psychologist and research in the gastroenterolgoy department at the university. "It's chronic and, over time, it's hard to treat because it is complicated."
Mindful meditation helps practitioners relax by focusing on the
moment, paying attention to breathing, the body and thoughts as
they occur, without judgment.
"It's a different way of using the mind and being aware," said Palsson. He noted that more than 200 hospitals around the country offer the mindfulness meditation training program.
The technique takes discipline to learn, but "becomes second
nature after a while," said Palsson, adding, "this is not a
clinical treatment, it's more educational."
The findings were to be presented Saturday at Digestive Disease
Week meeting in Chicago. Research presented at medical meetings
should be viewed as preliminary because it has not been subjected
to the scrutiny that typically accompanies publication in medical
journals. In addition, the number of participants in the new study
was small, and the findings need to be confirmed in larger
Irritable bowel syndrome is a common chronic illness that can
start as early as adolescence and become a lifelong condition.
Symptoms include abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea and constipation.
Cases range from mild to severe. It differs from inflammatory bowel
disease, a more serious condition with a similar name.
In the United States, the disease is more common in women and
about one in six people has the condition, according to the
National Institutes of Health. The condition is believed to stem
from a genetic predisposition and is triggered by stress, a
gastrointestinal infection or gastrointestinal surgery.
Treatments include anti-spasmodic medications to relax the
colon, and drugs to reduce constipation and diarrhea. Patients are
advised to avoid drinks and foods that stimulate the intestines,
such as alcohol, caffeinated beverages, some grains, chocolate and
But the disease varies from one person to another, and one
regimen does not help everyone, according to health officials.
For the study, 75 women between 19 and 71 years old, with an
average age of nearly 43 years, were randomly divided into two
groups. One group participated in a mindfulness meditation training
session and the other in a traditional support group, both for
Ahead of time, the groups rated the treatments' potential
benefit, or "credibility," about the same, the study said.
But at the end of eight weeks, the meditation group had a 26.4
percent reduction in "overall severity of symptoms" compared to a
6.2 percent reduction in the support group. By the end of three
months, the disparity persisted as improvement increased to a 38.2
percent reduction in symptoms for the meditation group vs. a 11.8
percent reduction for the therapy group, the study found.
The study authors also noted that mindful meditation was
inexpensive and widely available.
One expert praised the research results as original and
"It's a small sample, but I'm impressed. It's not so easy to do this with treatments that are not well-defined," said Dr. Albena Halpert, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Boston University Medical School. "There have been other studies that looked at psychological treatment options, but this is the first looking at mindfulness, and the results are robust."
Halpert said she was surprised that both groups rated the
potential benefit of the treatment option they were to receive
"You can call it the placebo effect or whatever you want, but you have to believe in a treatment for it to work," said Halpert. "It's interesting that people would think it [mindfulness training] would have the same benefit as a support group."
To learn more about mediation, visit the
U.S. National Institutes of Health.