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Meditation may reduce
hardening of arteries
without medication

Learning to relax and reduce stress through meditation, specifically Transcendental Meditation, may reduce atherosclerosis--and risk of heart attack and stroke--according to findings published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

This is the first controlled study to suggest that stress reduction by itself can reduce atherosclerosis without changes in diet and exercise, according to a team of researchers from UCLA and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles and Maharishi University of Management (M.U.M.) College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine in Fairfield, Iowa.

Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries accompanied by the buildup of fat deposits in the artery walls. It leads to cardiovascular disease (CVD), the number one cause of death for all Americans. CVD is particularly lethal to African Americans, who are twice as likely to die from the illness as whites.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and was conducted at Drew University in collaboration with the M.U.M. Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention.

Hypertensive African Americans who were at risk for cardiovascular disease were randomly assigned to the Transcendental Meditation program or to a health education control group. Sixty men and women volunteers completed pretests and posttests over an average intervention period of about seven months. The level of fatty substances deposited on participants' arterial walls, or carotid intima-media thickness (IMT), was evaluated by ultrasound. IMT is a widely used surrogate measure of coronary atherosclerosis and a predictor of heart attack and stroke.

Subjects practicing meditation showed a decrease of 0.098mm in IMT wall thickness, whereas participants in the health education control group showed an increase of 0.054mm. Based on two previous clinical observations, a 0.1mm decrease in IMT would indicate an approximate 11 percent decrease in risk of heart attack and a 7.7 percent to 15 percent reduction in risk of stroke.

The reductions found in the meditation group were comparable to those achieved by lipid-lowering medications and intensive lifestyle modification programs. There was no significant difference in baseline characteristics, intervention duration or attrition between the two groups.

Robert Schneider, M.D., second author of the study and director of the NIH- sponsored Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention (CNMP) at the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine, states, "Cardiovascular disease is associated with psychological stress. Previous research has found that the TM program decreases coronary heart disease risk factors, including hypertension, oxidized lipids, stress hormones and psychological stress, and is associated with reduced cardiovascular disease and death in African Americans and the general population."

"Taken together, these and other findings suggest that the distinct state of 'restful alertness' gained during the TM technique may be triggering self- repair homeostatic mechanisms in the body, which lead to the regression of atherosclerosis," says Schneider.

 

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