Mind Medicine: What Proof?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006; Page HE01
By January W. Payne
Washington Post Staff Writer
Mind Medicine: What Proof?
A research review published in 2002 in an Australian medical journal linked transcendental meditation
(TM) to decreased hypertension. The authors concluded that the technique was promising for prevention
and treatment of heart disease.
A similar review published last year in the Journal of Hypertension found insufficient evidence to
conclude whether TM lowers blood pressure.
Inconsistent results like these leave people understandably baffled about the value of so-called mind-body
treatments, a branch of alternative and complementary therapy that includes meditation, hypnosis,
imagery and mindfulness-based stress reduction. Each of these techniques assumes that altering one's
mental state can affect bodily health. Enthusiastic testimonials and gripping media reports
notwithstanding, the research record on mind-body medicine remains thin and inconclusive.
Still, these techniques are used, both with and without standard medical treatments, by millions of people
seeking relief from conditions ranging from stress to heart disease. Many users report benefits; risks are
low. The chart below examines the uses and research findings for several mind-body approaches.
Scientific investigation continues.
and Imagery
Meditation: A specific posture
and focused attention resulting in
a state of relaxation and tempered
reaction to distractions. Imagery:
Picturing pleasant or successful
Personal wellness; as a
supplement to other therapies for
Common anxiety, depression, pain, stress,
insomnia, poor mood; to manage
emotional/physical symptoms of
chronic illnesses.
Stress Reduction
A temporary altered state of
consciousness that often
includes focused attention,
responsiveness to
suggestions and suspension
of disbelief.
Deep relaxation and
attention skills that can be
applied in everyday life.
Usually taught in an eightweek program.
Alone or with standard
treatments to gain control
over behavior, emotions or
physical well-being.
Personal wellness; to
supplement treatment for
cardiovascular disease; to
reduce stress and pain,
including that linked to a
variety of medical
Preliminary research shows
benefits for fear, anxiety,
stress, phobias, headaches,
asthma, childbirth and
negative habits like
smoking, overeating and
Most benefits for highly
Generally considered safe. But a motivated people seeing a
degreed therapist with
few reports suggest intense,
regular meditation can exacerbate professional credentials in
treatment of underlying
some psychiatric problems.
Some benefits shown as a
supplement to other treatments
Research for depression, anxiety, high
Findings blood pressure, heart disease.
These studies are considered
Some studies show benefits
for several chronic
conditions, ranging from
borderline personality
disorder to psoriasis.
Most research to date does
not meet the gold-standard
quality accepted by the
medical community.