Meditation Has Limited Benefits, Study Finds; Mindfulness meditation can ease stress but won’t curb problems like being overweight

Meditation Has Limited Benefits, Study Finds

Mindfulness meditation can ease stress but won’t curb problems like being overweight

LINDSAY GELLMAN

Jan. 6, 2014 6:23 p.m. ET

Certain types of meditation may provide some modest relief from anxiety, depression and pain, a new study found. But the study found little evidence for other reported benefits of meditation, including help in curbing substance abuse, poor eating habits, sleep disorders and weight problems.The report, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, reviewed the findings from 47 previous studies, all randomized clinical trials, with 3,515 adult participants in total.

Many people use meditation to ease stress and promote general health. The purpose of the report was to examine the accumulated evidence to help doctors determine how best to counsel patients on the possible benefits and limitations of meditation, said Madhav Goyal, assistant professor of general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the report’s lead researcher.

In each of the underlying studies, participants received professional instruction in one of two types of meditation: mantra meditation or mindfulness meditation. A popular form of mantra meditation is transcendental meditation, which involves repetition of a phrase “in such a way that it transcends one to an effortless state where focused attention is absent,” the study said. By contrast, mindfulness meditation emphasizes training in “present-focused awareness,” or mindfulness. The study noted that the distinctions between the meditation types aren’t always clear.

Researchers found that only mindfulness meditation produced some benefits. For example, the improvement in patients with mild symptoms of depression was similar in magnitude to what might be expected from the use of an antidepressant, the study said. It also noted that there were few mantra-meditation studies to include in the JAMA review, which could help account for the lack of evidence of benefits from this type of meditation.

The study didn’t find any evidence meditation was harmful.

Researchers culled through nearly 19,000 previous studies on meditation to select the most scientific. Dr. Goyal said his team used rigorous inclusion criteria. Each of the 47 included studies was a controlled trial in which at least one group received either a therapy with known psychological benefits, such as exercise, or a placebo instructional or educational session, he said. Studies that looked only at children or adolescents, or those without a control group, were excluded.

“Although uncontrolled studies have usually found a benefit of meditation, very few controlled studies have found a similar benefit for the effects of meditation programs on health-related behaviors affected by stress,” the JAMA report said.

The report’s findings show that meditation is perhaps less effective in alleviating stress-related symptoms than is widely believed, said Allan H. Goroll, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School-Massachusetts General Hospital, in invited commentary also published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. “The studies overall failed to show much benefit from meditation with regard to relief of suffering or improvement in overall health, with the important exception that mindfulness meditation provided a small but possibly meaningful degree of relief from psychological distress,” he wrote.

Still, Dr. Goroll noted that participants only received 30 to 40 hours of training in meditation, which could indicate that “meditation is a skill that takes time to master.” He also said more evidence is needed to draw more robust conclusions about any benefits to meditation.

“People come to a meditation class because they’re suffering in some way,” said Jon Aaron, an instructor at New York Insight Meditation Center, which promotes mindfulness meditation. Through meditation, they learn to relate to their stress in a way that is more productive, he said.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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