AHA Statement Adds Meditation to CV Risk-Reduction Strategies

Megan Brooks

September 29, 2017

DALLAS, TX — Meditation may be considered as an adjunct to standard guideline-directed cardiovascular risk-reduction practices that include a heart-healthy lifestyle and treatment for high cholesterol and hypertension, according to the first-ever scientific statement on meditation from the American Heart Association (AHA)[1].

"Despite numerous advances in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the US and developing world," Dr Glenn N Levine (Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX), chair of the writing group of the AHA scientific statement, told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.

"Meditation, which is becoming increasingly popular and recognized for its benefits, may be an inexpensive and widely available adjunct to standard therapies for reduction of cardiovascular risk," he said.

The statement was published online September 28, 2017 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The authors note that multiple studies have shown meditation can have long-standing beneficial effects on the brain, which provide some "biological plausibility" for beneficial effects on the physiological basal state and on cardiovascular risk. Therefore, the AHA commissioned the writing group to systematically review relevant data on the potential benefits of meditation on cardiovascular risk.

Studies on combination mind-body practices, such as yoga and Tai Chi, were excluded, since the physical activity included in these practices has an established beneficial effect on cardiovascular risk.

The group reviewed studies of "sitting" meditation practices including a variety of common forms such as: Samatha meditation; Vipassana meditation (insight meditation); mindful meditation; Zen meditation (zazen); Raja yoga meditation; loving-kindness (metta) meditation; Transcendental Meditation; and relaxation response.

"Overall, studies of meditation suggest a possible benefit on cardiovascular risk, although the overall quality and, in some cases, quantity of study data are modest," the writing group says. More specifically, meditation may be associated with decreased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression and improved quality of sleep and overall well-being, they note.

Meditation may also help lower blood pressure, although there is insufficient evidence to determine whether or how much meditation may lower blood pressure in a given individual, the group says.

The data also suggest that meditation may help individuals quit smoking and might be associated with a decreased risk of MI, although the studies on this were limited and more studies are needed before any conclusions can be made, the group says.

"I found the results of our analyses encouraging in that regular meditation may decrease cardiovascular risk," Levine told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology, "although clearly more research is needed before any definitive conclusions may be made.

"Our message to patients and practitioners is that standard, guideline-directed lifestyle and medicinal interventions remain the primary way to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease, but for those interested in regular meditation, at this time this seems a reasonable adjunctive lifestyle modification," Levine said.

"Future studies, to the degree possible, should utilize randomized study design, be adequately powered to meet the primary study outcome, strive to achieve low dropout rates, include long-term follow-up, and be performed by those without inherent bias in outcome," the writing group concludes.

According to the National Health Interview Survey, 8% of US adults practice some form of meditation. Other data suggest that an estimated 14% to 24% of patients with heart disease have participated in some form of mind-body therapy, and 2% to 3% have used some form of meditation.

Levine has no relevant financial relationships. Disclosures for the coauthors are listed in the paper.

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