How effective is meditation?

You may hear a lot about the benefits of Meditation,  I have heard claims that meditation can help stress as well as drug and alcohol addiction. I wanted to look at the science behind meditation and see if the studies support these findings.

The Journal of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a meta-analysis of the literature in 2014

What did the meta-analysis on health benefits of meditation find?

“Mindfulness meditation programs, in particular, show small improvements in anxiety, depression, and pain with moderate evidence and small improvements in stress/distress and the mental health component of health-related quality of life with low evidence when compared with nonspecific active controls.”


“These small effects are comparable with what would be expected from the use of an antidepressant in a primary care population but without the associated toxicities.”

Summary there appears to be a benefit with anxiety, depression and come forms of pain.

Meditation decreases anxiety

“A group mindfulness meditation training program can effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety and panic and can help maintain these reductions in patients with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or panic disorder with agoraphobia.”

Effectiveness of a meditation- based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders American Journal of Psychiatry 1992 149:7, 936-943

Meditation can help decrease stress

“If you have unproductive worries,” says Dr. Hoge, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” says Dr. Hoge. Harvard Health

Meditation may help decrease  pain

Irritable bowel showed better response compared to musculoskeletal pain.

“we found moderate evidence that mindfulness-based stress reduction reduces pain severity to a small degree when compared with a nonspecific active control”-JAMA

Alcohol dependence

“Meditation may be an effective adjunctive therapy for relapse prevention in alcohol dependence, worthy of investigation in a larger trial. The study methods are appropriate for such a trial.”

J Addict Med. Mindfulness Meditation for Alcohol Relapse Prevention: A Feasibility Pilot Study Aleksandra Zgierska, MD, Ph.D., David Rabago, MD, Megan Zuelsdorff, BS, Christopher Coe, Ph.D., Michael Miller, MD, and Michael Fleming, MD, MPH


The JAMA meta-analysis showed that there was little evidence to support that meditation alters health.

“the evidence from a small number of studies did not show any effects on positive affect or well-being for any meditation program. We found no evidence of any harms of meditation programs, although few trials reported on harms.”

 Weight loss

The evidence was insufficient to indicate that meditation programs alter health-related behaviors affected by stress,

Mantra Meditation

The article also concluded that there is less evidence that mantra meditation is effective. JAMA

“We found low evidence of no effect or insufficient evidence of any effect of meditation programs on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight. We found no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (ie, drugs, exercise, and other behavioral therapies).”

Reference JAMA

Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EMS, Gould NF, Rowland-Seymour A, Sharma R, Berger Z, Sleicher D, Maron DD, Shihab HM, Ranasinghe PD, Linn S, Saha S, Bass EB, Haythornthwaite JA. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-beingA Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357-368. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
Relationships and meditation

“It is concluded that, when combined with empirically supported treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, loving kindness meditation  and compassion meditation may provide potentially useful strategies for targeting a variety of different psychological problems that involve interpersonal processes, such as social anxiety, marital conflict, anger, and coping with the strains of long-term caregiving.”

Marital and Family Therapy October 2007, Vol. 33, No. 4, 482–500  ROLE OF MINDFULNESS IN ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP SATISFACTION AND RESPONSES TO RELATIONSHIP STRESS Sean Barnes and Kirk Warren Brown University of Rochester Elizabeth Krusemark and W. Keith Campbell University of Georgia Ronald D. Rogge University of Rochester


“Both groups met six times, once a week for two hours. Compared with the people in the sleep education group, those in the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression at the end of the six sessions.” Harvard Health

“Dr. James E. Stahl and his team of Harvard researchers studied a mind-body relaxation program offered through the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. The 8-week program taught participants several different mind-body approaches, including meditation, yoga, mindfulness, cognitive behavioral skills, and positive psychology. The study volunteers participated in weekly sessions and practiced at home as well.

The researchers found that people in the relaxation program used 43% fewer medical services than they did the previous year, saving on average $2,360 per person in emergency room visits alone. This means that such yoga and meditation programs could translate into health care savings of anywhere from $640 to as much as $25,500 per patient each year.”  Harvard Health

Meditation and your  immune system

“These data suggest that engagement in compassion meditation may reduce stress-induced immune and behavioral responses, although future studies are required to determine whether individuals who engage in compassion meditation techniques are more likely to exhibit reduced stress reactivity.” Reference -Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress Pace, Thaddeus W.W. et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology , Volume 34, Issue 1, 87 – 98

“These findings demonstrate that a short program in mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable effects on brain and immune function. These findings suggest that meditation may change the brain and immune function in positive ways and underscore the need for additional research.”

Psychosom Med. 2003 Jul-Aug;65(4):564-70. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Davidson RJ1, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J, Rosenkranz M, Muller D, Santorelli SF, Urbanowski F, Harrington A, Bonus K, Sheridan JF.

 The JAMA review meta-analysis showed that there was not enough evidence to support the benefit of meditation on the immune system.
Health and Meditation

Some studies have claimed that meditation decreases your risk of multiple sclerosis flare-ups, heart disease, and stroke. Additional research is needed in these areas. The effect of meditation on these diseases is unproven.

Meditation and learning

There are some studies to support that concentration is increased in those who meditate.

“brief mindfulness training significantly improved visuospatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning. Our findings suggest that 4 days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.”
Leadership skills and meditation 
An article in Forbes mentioned that some companies were using meditation, “to increase leadership skills and decrease health care costs.”
Meditation and race bias
The same article in Forbes also mentioned that meditation has been shown to decrease race and age bias.
“Research participants played a game that measures trust levels. Essentially, participants looked at a bunch of pictures of various people of different races and gauged how much they trusted them to help them win money in the game, or potentially steal the money away from them. Control participants trusted white interaction partners far more than black ones, but the mindfulness group trusted both groups almost identically.”
Increase creativity
Meditation may increase one’s creativity.
“These findings are the first to document a direct relation between mindfulness and creativity.”

Conscious Cogn. 2012 Jun;21(2):1031-6. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2012.02.014. Epub 2012 Apr 6.Stepping out of history: mindfulness improves insight problem-solving.Ostafin BD1, Kassman KT.

What do you think of meditation?


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