LOS ANGELES, CA -- Learning to relax and reduce stress through the practice of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique may reduce atherosclerosis -- and risk of heart attack and stroke -- according to findings published today 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.
"We are very encouraged by these preliminary findings and are looking forward to replicating them in a larger sample of African Americans with heart disease," says Hector Myers, PhD, coauthor of the study and professor of psychology at UCLA and professor of psychiatry at Drew University.
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 post-tests 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 predictor of heart attack and stroke.
Reduced risk of heart attack and stroke
The results showed that subjects practicing the TM program had a decrease of 0.098mm in IMT wall thickness, whereas participants in the health education control group had an increase of 0.054mm. Based on two previous clinical observations, a 0.1mm decrease in IMT would indicate an approximate 11% decrease in the risk of heart attack and a 7.7% to 15% reduction in risk of stroke.
Results comparable to medications and lifestyle modification
The reductions found in the TM group were comparable to those achieved by lipid-lowering medications and intensive lifestyle modification programs. There were no significant differences in baseline characteristics, intervention duration, or attrition between the two groups.
Amparo Castillo-Richmond, MD, lead author of the study and assistant professor of Medicine at the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine, says, "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."
Robert Schneider, MD, second author of the study and director of the M.U.M. Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention, says, "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. As a modality for both prevention and treatment, the TM program could have vast implications for the current management of cardiovascular disease and health care costs."
NIH to sponsor follow-up studies in Los Angeles
Three follow-up studies on the TM program are in progress or will begin in the next two months at Drew University in collaboration with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and M.U.M. The studies are supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health's Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In addition to replicating the current findings, the studies will investigate possible mechanisms by which stress reduction through the TM program may affect the cardiovascular disease process.
Other coauthors of the current study are: Robert Cook, MD, and Chinelo Haney, project director, from the Department of Radiology and Biobehavioral Research Center at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science; and Charles Alexander, PhD; Sanford Nidich, PhD; Maxwell Rainforth, PhD; and John Salerno, PhD, from the Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine.
For more information, call the Drew Center for Natural Medicine at 323-563-9335 or the M.U.M. Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention at 515-472-1129.