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Coronary Heart Disease: Say 'Om'?

Transcendental Meditation May Help Handle Stable Coronary Heart Disease
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 12, 2006 -- A meditation technique with its roots in ancient India might prove useful against a modern-day killer: coronary heart disease.

Disease in the arteries feeding the heart increases the risk of heart attacks.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that transcendental meditation (TM) might reduce insulin resistancein people with a history of coronary heart disease, as well as help lower their blood pressure.

Such insulin resistance can lead to diabetesand metabolic syndrome, a cluster of abnormalities that ups the risk of heart disease. (The body makes insulin to control blood sugar levels. In cases of insulin resistance, the body doesn't respond properly to the hormone.)

TM had already been shown to help control blood pressure, but the insulin resistance findings are new, note the researchers, who included Maura Paul-Labrador, MPH, of Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Research Institute.

What is TM?

TM's foundations date back to ancient India. The relaxation technique has been taught worldwide since 1957, according to Paul-Labrador's study.

The web site of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), calls TM "a type of meditation that uses a mantra (a word, sound, or phrase repeated silently) to prevent distracting thoughts from entering the mind."

"The intent of TM might be described as allowing the mind to settle into a quieter state and the body into a state of deep rest. This is seen as ultimately leading to a state of relaxed alertness," states the NCCAM.

TM vs. Health Education

Paul-Labrador's study included 103 people with stable coronary heart disease (average age: 67). They included people who had had a heart attack (over three months ago), heart bypass surgery, coronary catheterization, or angioplasty.

Before and after the study, patients provided blood samples after an overnight fast. Their height, weight, and blood pressure were also measured.

The TM group received two 90-minute introductory lectures on TM and up to 90 minutes of personal instruction in the technique. They also took part in a brief interview, three group meetings, and follow-up meetings throughout the study.

Patients in the health education group received a similar amount of attention, covering topics that included the impact of stress, diet, and exercise on coronary heart disease.

Better Blood Pressure, Less Insulin Resistance

Compared with patients in the health education group, those in TM showed greater improvements in three areas:

  • Systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading)
  • Insulin resistance after an overnight fast
  • Heart rate variability

The results held when the researchers adjusted for other factors.

By helping people handle stress, transcendental meditation might help keep the body on a healthier, more even keel, the researchers suggest, noting that the groups had similar self-rated stress levels at the study's start.

However, patients in the health education group were more depressed and angry than those in the TM group both before and during the study. Adjusting for those differences did not change the results, the researchers note.

Since the study's participants might not be representative of all people with coronary heart disease, the researchers call for larger studies on the benefits of TM for coronary heart disease.

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