March 2, 2000 (Los Angeles) -- Transcendental meditation (TM), an ancient stress-management technique, may decrease blood vessel blockage and help people avoid a heart attack or stroke. A study published in the March issue of the journal Stroke shows that TM decreased the thickness of blood vessel walls, a known risk factor for stroke and heart disease.
"We were expecting to see some effect, but we were surprised to see such a large effect," author Amparo Castillo-Richmond, MD, tells WebMD. Castillo-Richmond is an assistant professor at the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine in Fairfield, Iowa.
The investigators studied 60 black men and women with high blood pressure. Each participant was randomly assigned either to a transcendental meditation group or to a health education program on improving risk factors for heart disease, such as lowering cholesterol through diet. The TM group meditated for 20 minutes twice a day, while the health education group spent a similar amount of time in "home practice," consisting of the leisure activity of their choice. Both groups were led by certified instructors from the black community, and the teaching materials were targeted to black people. The participants were followed for six to nine months.
TM caused a significant decline in the thickness of the wall of the carotid artery, which supplies blood to the brain, the authors found. The effect of this change was to widen the inside of the artery and allow it to carry more blood to the brain. In contrast, the group receiving health education continued to see a worsening in the thickness of the blood-vessel walls. The TM group also had significant changes in blood pressure, as well as heart rate. Blood pressure also decreased significantly in the health education group.
"This is the first time we have been able to show that a mind-body technique can reverse this disease," says co-author Robert H. Schneider, MD, director of the Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention at the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine. "It is easy to do, it feels good, [it] has major beneficial effects, and it is cost effective."
"What TM seems to do is enliven or enhance the body's own self-repair mechanisms," he tells WebMD. "We see this in terms of a decrease in hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which affect the development of atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] in the blood vessels."
For people interested in trying TM, Schneider suggests checking the phone book under "meditation" or "transcendental meditation." "Trained TM instructors are available in every major city, not just in the U.S., but all over the world," he says.
"This is one of the few proven stress management techniques that has been tested with our best science," says Noel Bairey-Merz, MD, director of the Preventive Cardiology Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was not involved in this study, but is working with the authors on the effect of TM in preventing sudden death in people at high risk of heart disease. "I would concur that it appears to have an effect on blood pressure and carotid artery thickness, and it has no adverse effects. I would say this is ready for prime time."
- Researchers say the ancient practice of transcendental meditation, or TM, may have a new benefit: lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke by lessening blood vessel blockage.
- The researchers found that two 20-minute sessions of daily TM led to a widening of the space inside the practitioners' arteries. In the comparison group, which did leisure activities instead of TM, arterial thickening continued to worsen.
- An associate of the researchers, who is working with them on a similar study, agrees that TM is helpful, because it seems to benefit both blood pressure and the flow of blood through the neck arteries that serve the brain.