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Mindful : April 2018
M ost people who meditate have an intuitive sense that, by reducing stress, mindfulness practice probably helps keep our blood pressure down. But proving that hasn’t been easy. In 2013, the news looked encourag- ing. A randomized controlled study of 56 patients with prehypertension, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, reported that mind- fulness meditation brought their numbers back down to a healthy level. But within a year, results from a Canadian trial threw cold water on those hopeful findings. In a study called “Hypertension Analysis of Stress Reduction Using Mind- fulness Meditation and Yoga,” or HARMONY, published in 2014 in the American Journal of Hypertension, researchers tested mindfulness in 101 men with hyper tension. The results found no difference in the blood pressures of people who did mindfulness meditation compared to a control group. In study after study, in fact, the results are surprisingly mixed. Some show benefits, others don’t. How can that be? Part of the problem, experts say, is that various studies use different mindfulness inter- ventions and even measure blood pressure differently, leading to conflicting results. Eric Loucks, PhD, an associate professor of med- icine at Brown University, is convinced that mindfulness practice can help many peo- ple with hypertension bring their numbers down—and he has new evidence to back him up. Loucks and his colleagues recently completed the first par t of a clinical trial called Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure Reduction Interven- tion Development. The aim of the study, which recruited 48 par ticipants, was to devise a customized version of mindfulness meditation that focused specifically on encouraging behaviors that are known to help bring blood pressure down, such as phys- ical activity, healthy diet, and stress management. Although results are still being analyzed, they show promise. “Like most previous studies, we’re not seeing much of a change in people with prehypertension,” says Loucks. “But we are seeing marked reductions in blood pressure in people with high Reducing Blood Pressure blood pressure numbers.” That’s especially good news right now. Last year, researchers released new blood pressure guidelines that reduce the target for optimum blood pressure from 140/90 mm Hg to 130/80 mm Hg. The new guidelines mean that an additional 31 million Americans are now officially classified as having hyperten- sion. If the new results hold up, mindfulness meditation should gain new respect as a reliable way to bring their numbers down into the healthy zone. April 2018 mindful 53