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Is meditation a wonder cure for heart disease?

Published by Waleed Fakhroo on November 30, 2009

Meditation can lower the risk of heart attack in subjects with existing disease, comparable to that of powerful new drugs. In a 5-year study, meditating cardiac patients were almost 50% less likely to be affected.

The effect that meditation techniques have on blood pressure, stress and cognition are well known. However, until recently, there was little scientific research on how the practice can affect the health and clinical condition of patients.

A study of the subject was done by preventive medicine specialist Robert Schneider of the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, and endocrinologist Theodore Kotchen of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, reports Science magazine.

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The researchers enlisted 201 patients with narrowed coronary arteries – a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. The subjects were all African American, a high-risk group for heart disease.

The volunteers were assigned into two groups. Both were taking standard medicine for high blood pressure and atherosclerosis and were taught good practices for patients with cardiac conditions. One group was also taught transcendental meditation and asked to practice for 15 to 20 minutes a day. Transcendental meditation is a technique developed by Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which became internationally known after the Beatles practiced it.

Over 5 years, the meditation practitioners showed 47% lower rates of heart attacks, strokes, and death compared to the control group. Meditation has proved as powerful as any new class of heart disease medications entering the market, says Schneider. The mechanism for this is not obvious, but is probably linked with lower blood pressures associated with meditation, researchers believe.

It’s early to call transcendental mediation a wonder cure for the heart, however. The effect may not translate well to other ethnic groups with lower risks of cardiac diseases. On the other hand, other techniques reducing blood pressure and stress levels could prove effective too. Those may include yoga or even prayer, commented cardiologist Sabahat Bokhari of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.

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