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Meditation May Improve Life of Chronically Ill


By Merritt McKinney
Tuesday September 4 2001

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) A type of meditation called mindfulness-based stress reduction may improve symptoms and quality of life, as well as reduce stress, in patients with a wide variety of chronic illnesses, the results of a new study indicate.
     A tactic called mindfulness-based stress reduction teaches patients to “try to stay as present as possible with their experience,” according to the study's lead author, Dr. Diane K. Reibel, of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
     She explained in an interview with Reuters Health that this meditation technique encourages patients to “acknowledge that they have fears and worries,” but to keep them in balance with the positive things in their lives. However, Reibel said in referring to the process, “it's simple, but it's not easy.”
     The technique appears to be beneficial to people with a variety of chronic illnesses, Reibel and her colleagues report in a recent issue of the journal General Hospital Psychiatry. In a study of 136 people with conditions ranging from cancer to sleep disorders, an 8-week course in stress reduction led to overall improvements in health-related quality of life – such as boosts in “vitality”' and lowered pain levels.
     Based on several objective tests, some physical symptoms as well as health-related psychological distress were reduced by the end of the training. And the impact of the training program seems to be long lasting, Reibel and her colleagues report. The beneficial effects on symptoms, quality of life and psychological distress were maintained in-patients who were interviewed one year after the meditation training.
     “The health promotion effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction appear to complement conventional biomedical treatment in a comprehensive, patient-centered approach to healing and alleviation of human suffering,” the authors conclude.
     Reibel told Reuters Health that one of the drawbacks of the study was that it did not compare participants with a “control”' group of patients who did not receive the training. She said she and her colleagues would also like to study the technique in specific groups of patients, such as people with cancer or the chronic-pain condition fibromyalgia, to see whether its effects vary.
     Reibel said she hoped future research would be able to identify specific biological factors, such as changes in stress-related hormones that account for the improvements of mindfulness-based stress reduction.
     The Philadelphia-based financial services, Advanta Corporation, provided some of the funding for the study.

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