A new study found that patients with coronary heart disease who included Transcendental Meditation with their cardiac rehabilitation increased blood flow to the heart by more than 20 percent.
The pilot study, conducted by researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in collaboration with the Institute for Prevention Research, included 56 patients who had coronary heart disease, including a recent heart attack, coronary artery bypass, or angina.
“This was the first study to show that the cardiovascular benefits of lifestyle modification, such as structured exercise and dietary counseling, may be enhanced by adding Transcendental Meditation in patients with heart disease,” said Robert Schneider, M..D, F.A.C.C., co-director of the study and medical director of the Institute for Prevention Research. “It also found that the Transcendental Meditation technique alone was able to reverse the effects of coronary heart disease assessed by positron emission tomography (PET) imaging.”
For the study, the researchers randomly divided the subjects into four groups: cardiac rehabilitation, Transcendental Meditation, Transcendental Meditation plus cardiac rehabilitation, or usual care.
The study’s findings showed that of the 37 patients who completed post-testing, myocardial blood flow increased by 20.7 percent in the group that did both Transcendental Meditation and cardiac rehabilitation. Blood flow in the group that practiced Transcendental Meditation alone increased 12.8 percent. Cardiac rehabilitation by itself showed an improvement of 5.8 percent. And patients who received the usual treatment showed a decrease in blood flow of -10.3 percent.
“Although this is a preliminary study, it suggests that managing one’s mind-body connection with Transcendental Meditation can improve the function of the heart in cardiovascular patients,” said Schneider, who is also dean of Maharishi University of Management’s College of Integrative Medicine.
He said that psychosocial stress is known to be a risk factor for coronary heart disease, but that stress reduction therapies aren’t usually included in cardiac rehabilitation.
“More research needs to be done, but this study and previous research strongly suggest that medical professionals should consider utilizing this simple yet effective mind-body intervention in their heart health treatment and prevention programs,” Schneider said.
While it’s not known precisely how Transcendental Meditation would increase blood flow, the researchers speculate that it’s a result of improved endothelial-mediated coronary and arteriolar vasomotor function. They explain that reduced levels of stress hormones and possibly inflammation may result in improved function of the endothelial cells that line the coronary arteries.
While the study suggests that the Transcendental Meditation technique can increase blood flow in cardiovascular patients, the researchers say that carefully conducted clinical trials with larger sample sizes are needed to confirm the benefit.
“This was a first pilot study designed to determine the size of the effect and feasibility,” Schneider said. “Of the 56 original subjects, only 37 were available for the final post testing of blood flow after the 12-week study period. In addition, compliance with cardiac rehabilitation was average, with attendance at exercise sessions about 60 percent. Also, the subjects practicing Transcendental Meditation may have received more attention than the rehabilitation group. This initial study paves the way for full-scale clinical trials that will more rigorously evaluate these effects.”
The study was published in the Journal of Nuclear Cardiology.