Meditation may reduce atherosclerosis and risk of heart attack and stroke

American Heart Association journal Stroke publishes report in March 2000 issue


Learning to relax and reduce stress through the practice of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique may reduce atherosclerosis--and risk of heart attack and stroke--according to findings published today in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.


This is the first controlled study to suggest that stress reduction by itself can reduce atherosclerosis without changes in diet and exercise, according to a team of researchers from UCLA and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles and Maharishi University of Management (M.U.M.) College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine in Fairfield, Iowa. "This finding that the disease process in the arteries can be reduced through the TM program may have vast implications for the current management of cardiovascular disease and health care costs," says Amparo Castillo-Richmond, M.D., lead author of the study and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine. Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries accompanied by the buildup of fat deposits in the artery walls. It leads to cardiovascular disease (CVD), the number one cause of death for all Americans. CVD is particularly lethal to African Americans, who are twice as likely to die from the illness as whites. The study was supported by a grant from the National Heart, Lung and BloodInstitute and was conducted at Drew University in collaboration with the M.U.M. Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention.


Hypertensive African Americans who were at risk for cardiovascular disease were randomly assigned to the Transcendental Meditation program or to a health education control group. Sixty men and women volunteers completed pretests and posttests over an average intervention period of about seven months. The level of fatty substances deposited on participants' arterial walls, or carotid intima-media thickness (IMT), was evaluated by ultrasound. IMT is a widely used surrogate measure of coronary atherosclerosis and a predictor of heart attack and stroke.


Reduced risk of heart attack and stroke

The study's findings were impressive. Subjects practicing the TM program showed a decrease of 0.098mm in IMT wall thickness, whereas participants in the health education control group showed an increase of 0.054mm. Based on two previous clinical observations, a 0.1mm decrease in IMT would indicate an approximate 11 percent decrease in risk of heart attack and a 7.7 percent to 15 percent reduction in risk of stroke.


Results comparable to medications and lifestyle modification

The reductions found in the TM group were comparable to those achieved bylipid-lowering medications and intensive lifestyle modification programs.

There was no significant differences in baseline characteristics, intervention duration or attrition between the two groups.


Robert Schneider, M.D., second author of the study and director of the NIH-sponsored Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention (CNMP) at the

College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine, states, "Cardiovascular disease is associated with psychological stress. Previous research has found that the TM program decreases coronary heart disease risk factors, including hypertension, oxidized lipids, stress hormones and psychological stress, and is associated with reduced cardiovascular disease and death in African Americans and the general population."


Self-repair mechanism activated

"Taken together, these and other findings suggest that the distinct state of 'restful alertness' experienced during the TM technique may be triggering self-repair homeostatic mechanisms in the body, which lead to the regression of atherosclerosis," says Schneider.


NIH to sponsor follow-up studies in Los Angeles

Hector Myers, Ph.D., coauthor of the study and Professor of Psychology at UCLA and Professor of Psychiatry at Drew University, is overseeing three follow-up studies on the TM program conducted at Drew University in collaboration with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and M.U.M. The studies are supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health's Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The studies will be evaluating the current findings in a larger group of African Americans with heart disease and will also be studying

possible mechanisms by which stress reduction through the TM program may affect the cardiovascular disease process.


Other coauthors of the current study are: Charles Alexander, Ph.D.; Sanford Nidich, Ph.D.; Maxwell Rainforth, Ph.D.; and John Salerno, Ph.D., from the

Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine; and Robert Cook,

M.D., and Chinelo Haney, project director, from the Department of Radiology and Biobehavioral Research Center at Drew University in Los Angeles.