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How Mindfulness Meditation Can Help People With Rheumatoid Arthritis

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 12/28/2011 1:50 am EST Updated: 01/07/2013 2:35 pm EST

Research has shown that the benefits of mindfulness meditation are far-reaching, from minimizing pain sensitivity to helping us regulate our emotions. The newest study suggests it could also have benefits specifically for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

The small study, conducted by researchers from Oslo's Diakonhjemmet Hospital, shows that people who partake in mindfulness exercises had less fatigue and lower levels of stress than people who just receive standard treatment for the condition.

The research was published in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, and included 73 people with rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis between ages 20 and 70. Half of the people were chosen to do mindfulness exercises that were done in 10 group sessions for 15 weeks, as well as one more session six months after the 10 sessions were completed. The other half of the people were just given regular care for the condition, as well as a CD that taught them how to do mindfulness exercises.

In this particular study, mindfulness meditation aimed to help people concentrate on their own thoughts, experiences and pain in the moment, without actively trying to avoid them or judge them, researchers said.

At the end of the study, both groups of people had the same pain levels, ability to talk about how they were feeling and disease activity. However, the people who had the group mindfulness training scored significantly lower in measurements of stress and fatigue, compared with people who didn't have the training.

Even though this study didn't show that mindfulness had any effect on reducing pain levels, past research suggests it can help to ease pain. A study in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that mindfulness meditation can lower pain levels by 57 percent, USA Today reported.

A separate study, in the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that meditation has this pain-relieving effect by increasing brain activity in regions associated with sensory information processing, according to USA Today.

For more on the health benefits of meditation, click through this slideshow:

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  • It Makes Your Brain Plastic

    Quite literally, sustained meditation leads to something called neuroplasticity, which is defined as the brain's ability to change, structurally and functionally, on the basis of environmental input. For much of the last century, scientists believed that the brain essentially stopped changing after adulthood. But research by University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson <a href="https://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/web/News/Meditation_Alters_Brain_WSJ_11-04.htm" target="_hplink">has shown that experienced meditators exhibit high levels of gamma wave activity</a> and display an ability -- continuing after the meditation session has attended -- to not get stuck on a particular stimulus. That is, they're automatically able to control their thoughts and reactiveness.

  • It Increases Gray Matter

    A 2005 study on American men and women who meditated a mere 40 minutes a day <a href="http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1147167-2,00.html" target="_hplink">showed that they had thicker cortical walls than non-meditators</a>. What this meant is that their brains were aging at a slower rate. Cortical thickness is also associated with decision making, attention and memory.

  • It Can Be Better Than Sleeping

    In a 2006 study, college students were asked to either sleep, meditate or watch TV. They were then tested on their alertness by being asked to hit a button every time a light flashed on a screen. The meditators <a href="http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1147167-2,00.html" target="_hplink">did better than the nappers and TV watchers</a> -- by a whole 10 percent.

  • It's Better Than Blood Pressure Medication

    In 2008, Dr. Randy Zusman, a doctor at the Massachusetts General Hospital, asked patients suffering from high blood pressure to try a meditation-based relaxation program for three months. These were patients whose blood pressure had not been controlled with medication. After meditating regularly for three months, <a href="http://www.npr.org/2008/08/21/93796200/to-lower-blood-pressure-open-up-and-say-om" target="_hplink">40 of the 60 patients showed significant drops in blood pressure levels</a> and were able to reduce some of their medication. The reason? Relaxation results in the formation of nitric oxide which opens up your blood vessels.

  • It Can Protect Your Telomeres

    Telomeres -- the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes -- are the new frontier of anti-aging science. Longer telomeres mean that you're also likely to live longer. Research done by the University of California, Davis' Shamatha Project <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/apr/24/meditation-ageing-shamatha-project" target="_hplink">has shown that meditators have significantly higher telomerase activity that non-meditators</a>. Telomerase is the enzyme that helps build telomeres, and greater telomerase activity can possibly translate into stronger and longer telomeres .

  • It Can Slow The Progression Of HIV

    A 2008 study on HIV positive patients found that, after an eight-week meditation course, patients <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080724215644.htm" target="_hplink">who'd meditated showed no decline in lymphocyte content</a> compared with non-meditators who showed significant reduction in lymphocytes. Lymphocytes or white blood cells are the "brain" of the body's immune system, and are particularly important for HIV positive people. The study also found that lymphocyte levels actually went up with each meditation session. However, due to the small sample size -- only 48 volunteers -- it's harder to draw definitive conclusions.

  • Its Pain Relieving Properties Beat MorphIne

    Earlier this year, a study conducted by Wake Forest Baptist University found that <a href="http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-04-demystifying-meditation-brain-imaging.html" target="_hplink">meditation could reduce pain intensity by 40 percent and pain unpleasantness by 57 percent</a>. Morphine and other pain-relieving drugs typically show a pain reduction of 25 percent. Meditation works by reducing activity in the somatosensory cortex and increasing activity in other areas of the brain. This study also had a small sample size, making it harder to draw definite conclusions.

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    The Positive Benefits of Meditation

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