For people who suffer from inflammation—for example, those with rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease or asthma—mindfulness practice may be a key to reducing both stress and inflammation.
Researchers from the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, compared an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program with a control intervention without a mindfulness component to determine the effectiveness of mindfulness on measures of inflammation and stress. While both activities successfully reduced stress, only mindfulness practice significantly reduced inflammation.
Investigators randomly assigned 49 volunteers to either mindfulness training or a health education program. The mindfulness group focused on breath, bodily sensations or mental content while seated, walking and practicing yoga. The Health Enhancement Program participants practiced walking, balance, agility, core strength, nutrition education and music therapy. Researchers stimulated stress and inflammation in participants by applying capsaicin cream to forearm skin. (Capsaicin is the naturally occurring compound that makes some peppers “hot.”) All subjects were tested for stress levels and inflammatory response.
Stress levels dropped in both groups, but participants in the mindfulness group also had less inflammation. This study was conducted on healthy individuals; study authors recommended that future research focus on individuals with chronic stress and inflammation.
Lead study author Melissa Rosenkranz, assistant scientist at the center, said in a press release, “This [mindfulness approach] is not a cure-all, but our study does show that there are specific ways that mindfulness can be beneficial, and that there are specific people who may be more likely to benefit from this approach than other interventions.”
The study appeared in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (2012; doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.10.013).