Meditation reduces depression fatigue anxiety in MS patients

November 12, 2012

Meditation reduces depression fatigue anxiety in MS patients

Swiss researchers from a hospital in Basel have found that one particular form of meditation based on yoga may help people with multiple sclerosis. The researchers from University Hospital Basel carried out the 8 week study on 150 patients, all with multiple sclerosis, and the patients were split randomly into two groups. One group was given regular medical care and the other group was given a program of meditation build around the feature known as ‘mindfulness’. The definition of the yoga based treatment was “nonjudgmental awareness of moment-to-moment experience”. The study and its findings were recently published in the journal Neurology. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease which affects the nervous system and can bring on muscle weakness, cognitive problems such as thinking and memory issues and co-ordination and balance problems. It normally starts in early adulthood and patients commonly suffer from anxiety and depression. Earlier studies have indicated that the incidence of depression in MS sufferers can be about 50% and those with anxiety disorders can reach 25% of the population with MS. Other MS sufferers says that being fatigued is their biggest issue, with 67% saying that they are always tired and up to 50% saying that fatigue was their most immobilizing symptom. The patients who did not meditate were compared with those who did as part of the study and it was found that those who took part in the yoga based ‘mindfulness’ experience reported lower levels of depression and fatigue for up to six months, than those on the standard medical care. Those taking part in the meditation also reported that their quality of life had improved.

Dr. Moses Rodriguez, is a professor of neurology and immunology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and he is aware of the study and its findings. He said that the study showed that meditation is safe and in his experience it would be more cost effective than using drugs that MS patients take. Rodriguez added, “Patients should try it and see if it is helpful for them”.

According to the study the participants on the meditation program showed improvements in every area which was measured, that was fatigue, anxiety, depression and quality of life. At the same time there was a small decrease in those measures in those who had standard medical care. An example was that there was a decrease of more than 30% in symptoms related to depression in the mindfulness training group when compared to the others.

Paul Grossman, the study author said, “The patients responded very positively to the program. There was a very small number of patients that did not complete the course (5 percent), and the attendance rate was extremely high: On average over 90% of all sessions were attended, although many patients traveled several hours to attend the weekly sessions and people with MS often have difficulties walking and other symptoms that make travel difficult”. Grossman then added, “Also, patients reported a high degree of satisfaction in meeting personal goals that were individually stated before the intervention started”.

The study had a commentary written by two physicians from the Cleveland Clinic to accompany the report. The physicians thought that the report was ‘solidly designed’. However the findings were limited because another form of treatment was not compared with. As things stand presently it is hard to decide if the meditation is the only factor which was beneficial to the patients.

Although the physicians made these comments, one of them, neurologist Dr. Jinny Tavee, said that she had noted encouraging effects of mindfulness in her own practice. She went on to say that medications have the problem that the patients hear from the doctor, “‘Here are some drugs that make you sad, tired and depressed, but nothing will effectively take away your disease.’ They’re left with no effective treatments”.

Tavee says that mindfulness is like a breath of fresh air, “You learn to objectify what you’re feeling, be it pain or anxiety or depression, and see it as a separate entity that’s not part of yourself. It helps you let it go”. She goes on to describe another benefit of mindfulness when she says, “You’re getting to the heart of the symptom rather than just covering it as you do with medications”.

Tavee reports that when she advocates a patient trying it she is often met with skepticism but she points out that it is free and there is nothing to lose. The patient learns how to do it for themselves and if it doesn’t work for them then at least it has been tried and there are no side effects. She says, “It’s one of those things that can help and won’t hurt”.

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