Perhaps the biggest impediment regarding the acceptance of alternative medicine in the United States is the fact that Americans have been conditioned to believe that only "traditional" methods of healthcare are effective and acceptable.
But the truth is, there are a number of non-customary treatment modalities for certain health conditions that either proved worthy centuries ago or are beginning to gain renewed recognition in medical circles in response to an outpouring of interest from an increasing number of people who see traditional medicine as the problem rather than the solution.
One "treatment" that has begun to generate interest is meditation and, in particular, how it can be utilized to effectively treat dire medical conditions such as heart disease. To that end, researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee have found that people with coronary disease who began practicing Transcendental Meditation were 48 percent less likely to have a heart attack, stroke or die from all causes, compared to a group of study participants who merely attended a health education class over more than five years.
Meditation reduces stress, anger and morbidity
In addition, researchers found that those practicing meditation were able to lower their blood pressure, in addition to reporting less overall stress and anger, The Times of India reported. The study also found that the more regularly patients meditated, the greater their rates of survival.
"We hypothesised that reducing stress by managing the mind-body connection would help improve rates of this epidemic disease," said Robert Schneider, M.D., lead researcher and director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Fairfield, Iowa. "It appears that Transcendental Meditation is a technique that turns on the body's own pharmacy to repair and maintain itself."
The results of the study were published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
For the purposes of the study, the research team randomly assigned 201 African American participants to a Transcendental Meditation stress-reduction program or a health education class teaching lifestyle modification, diet and exercise.
Participants in the meditation program were instructed to sit with eyes closed for about 20 minutes two times per day to practice the technique, which allowed their minds and bodies to rest while otherwise remaining alert.
Meanwhile, those who participated in the health education group were advised by professional health educators to spend at least 20 minutes per day at home practising cardiac-healthy behaviour that included exercise, preparing healthy meals and non-specific relaxation.
Participants were evaluated by the research team at the beginning of the study, then again at three months and every six months thereafter. Researchers examined participants' body mass index, diet, blood pressure, hospitalisations for heart problems and overall adherence to the program.
Clearly, meditation reduced incidents of mortality.
Over the course of the study, researchers found 52 primary end-point events; of these, 20 events occurred in the meditation group and 32 in the health education group.
Blood pressures fell by about five millimeters of mercury (mmHg), and anger decreased significantly among the meditation group, compared to the other group.
Both groups managed beneficial changes in exercise and the consumption of alcohol, but the meditation group also saw a trend towards reducing smoking. There were no significant differences between the groups regarding weight, exercise or diet.
Researchers said regular medication correlated well with reduced death as well as incidents of heart attack and stroke.
"Transcendental Meditation may reduce heart disease risks for both healthy people and those with diagnosed heart conditions," said Schneider, who is also dean of the Maharishi College of Perfect Health in Fairfield, Iowa.
"Meditation is now widely accepted as a mind-body technique for maintaining holistic health and wellness. In medical and rehabilitation settings, meditation has proven to be a safe and effective adjunctive therapy for treating a variety of conditions and the psychological effects of chronic illness and pain-effects often not addressed in conventional treatments," adds Dr. Sala Horowitz, PhD, in a paper discussing the newest research into the health benefits of meditation.
"Evidence suggesting that meditation has neuroprotective properties has implications for enhancing cognition and preventing dementia," she wrote.