In this high-tech age of modern medicine, could it be possible to treat the leading cause of death in the U.S. through the power of meditation? According to a first-of-its-kind randomized study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Division of Geriatric Medicine, a widely practiced, stress-reducing meditation technique can significantly reduce the severity of congestive heart failure. The study appears in the Winter 2007 issue of Ethnicity & Disease.

“The results of this study indicate that transcendental meditation can be effective in improving the functional capacity and quality of life of congestive heart failure patients” said Ravishankar Jayadevappa, PhD, lead author and research assistant professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine. “These results also suggest long-term improvements in survival in these individuals.”

Jayadevappa and fellow researchers evaluated 23 African American men and women, average age 64, who were recently hospitalized with New York Heart Association class II or III congestive heart failure. Participants were randomized to either the Transcendental Meditation® (TM) technique or health education, in addition to standard medical treatment.

Researchers measured changes in heart function with a 6-minute walk test, and checked for quality of life, depression and re-hospitalizations. They also analyzed changes in outcomes from baseline to 3 and 6 months after treatment. According to Jayadevappa, the transcendental meditation group significantly improved on the 6-minute walk test after both 3 and 6 months of transcendental meditation practice compared to the control group. The transcendental meditation group also showed improvement in quality of life measurements, depression and had fewer re-hospitalizations. According to the study authors, transcendental meditation most likely improves heart failure by reducing sympathetic nervous system activation associated with stress that is known to contribute to the failing heart.

This present finding is consistent with previous research demonstrating that transcendental meditation reduces factors that contribute to the cause or progression of heart failure, such a high blood pressure, stress, metabolic syndrome, left ventricular hypertrophy (enlargement of the heart) and severity of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Further validation of the study outcomes is planned via a large, multi-center trial with long-term follow-up.