Category Archives: meditation

Cartoon humor: A Prescription for Health!

 

prescription-for-exercise-cropped

Hat tip to Tommy Wood MD, PhD for introducing me to this great cartoon.

So what would happen if your doctor prescribed this? Would you be shocked? Would you follow the advice? Sadly few doctors make such recommendations as explicitly as this cartoon and fewer patients follow the advice.

How important are the elements in this advice?

They are essential. We too often focus on dietary concerns at the expense of ignoring other important low hanging fruit. Early morning  outdoor exercise with exposure to natural light in a green space, even on a cloudy or rainy day, is essential for health. Why? There are many reasons. Click the link above to read fitness expert Darryl Edward’s discussion with references. In fact outdoor exercise in a greenspace is more beneficial than the same exercise indoors. The reasons are many, including but not limited to Vitamin D production.

Early daytime exposure to natural outdoor light helps to maintain our Circadian rhythm and align the biologic clock in all of our cells and organs with the central biological Circadian clock in our brain. Most folks do not know that we have a biologic clock deep within our brain and that all the organs and cells of our body also have clocks. They all need to be synchronized with each other and with the sun for optimal health. When they are not synchronized bad things happen. Night shift workers and other folks with disturbed sleep have higher rates of cancer , depressionhypertension, heart attack and stroke.

Maintaining our circadian rhythm is vital to achieving adequate high quality restorative sleep. In turn, obtaining adequate restorative sleep contributes to lower cardiovascular disease risk in addition to four traditional lifestyle risk factors.

Exposure to artificial light at night disrupts our circadian rhythm and impairs the onset of sleep.

In medical school I learned that our retina has two cell types, rods and cones. But advances in science have revealed a  third cell type called retinal ganglionic cells. 

These cells are  particularly sensitive to blue light and directly connected to our central biological clock . Exposure to artificial light, especially from TV screens, computers, cell phones and other electronic devices after sunset disrupts our sleep cycle and delays the onset of sleep. That is why wearing blue light filtering glasses in the evening helps many folks to improve their sleep quality and duration.

Sleep deprivation for even one night causes elevation in interleukin 6 levels the following day. Interleukin 6 suppresses immune function and excessive levels cause bone and tissue damage (especially cardiovascular). Sleep deprivation  increases  Stress hormones (cortisol, adrenalin), decreases prolactin and Growth hormone , and decreases the nightly production of ATP .

Melatonin , often called the sleep hormone, is produced most abundantly during restorative sleep and essential for tissue healing, immune function, cancer prevention, and defense against tissue oxidation. These are just a few of the roles melatonin and sleep cycles play in determining our health..

So exercise outdoors in a green space daily to help synchronize your biologic clock with the sun, dim the lights in the evening and if you must watch TV or work on electronic devices before bed wear Blue Light filter glasses .

Of course eating an abundance of colorful fresh organic vegetables and fruits, and practicing some stress reduction techniques every day are equally important and essential to health and functional status.

Finally, not mentioned in the cartoon above is another healthy lifestyle choice, intermittent fasting (IF). IF will be discussed in the next post.

Until then, sleep well, exercise regularly out doors in a green space environment, eat clean, learn and practice some regular stress reduction techniques and read the next post about IF.

Bob Hansen MD

Nutrition Journals and the influence of the food industry

Ever wonder why the public is so confused about nutrition recommendations? Just follow the money and you will understand that most of the professional societies that publish nutrition articles are funded by big food companies that are trying to sell more sugar, refined carbs and junk food. I recently read an excellent post about this topic here:

The Vilest Villain: American Society of Nutrition

This theme is repeated by medical journals that are “The Official Journal of the Society of >>>>>>” Just fill in the blanks for just about any medical society. Funding comes from big pharmaceutical companies the same way that funding in the nutrition Journals comes from large (junk) “food” manufacturers.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of very valuable, life-saving drugs out there.

But most chronic human disease in developed societies is generated by various combinations of poor nutrition, lack of exercise, disruption of circadian rhythm, inadequate restorative sleep, stress and lack of social support systems.

The obesity and diabetes epidemics continue to worsen yet the failed dietary advise of major health organizations is slow to respond to the data. Excess refined carbs (especially in the form of “food” made with flour) and added sugar (especially in the form of HFCS) are the major driving forces for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Red meat is not the culprit, provided the meat is properly sourced (hormone and antibiotic free, grass fed) and cooked in a manner that does not create carcinogens and inflammatory mediators (cook with slow, low, moist heat, high temperature grilling and smoking cause problems, but that topic  is for another post).

Americans consume an average 130 pounds per year of added sugar and 140 pounds per year of refined flour. Those are averages so there are many people who consume more. The added sugar is not the white stuff people put in their coffee. It comes in all sorts of forms but is found in energy drinks, soda, lattes and mochas, salad dressing,  ketchup, canned soups, canned vegetables, white AND whole grain breads, pasta (even “whole grain”), crackers, breakfast cereal,  just about any packaged food that has more than one ingredient on the label. These foods represent 70% of the American diet. The problems created by this situation are enormous and will bankrupt our “healthcare system”. This is a cultural and economic problem.

The solutions are simple but largely ignored in our society. We are creatures of habit and convenience.

Eat whole foods, nothing from a package that has more than one ingredient. Eat meat, seafood, poultry, fresh organic vegetables (6-9 servings per day), fresh organic fruits, and nuts. Meat should be hormone and antibiotic free (free range, grass fed). Seafood should be wild. Poultry should be free range and the eggs should come from free range chickens, ducks, geese.

Do not worry about eating fat as long as it comes from healthy animals and sources such as coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil and clarified butter (ghee).

Do not use any “vegetable” oils (corn, soy, and other oils from grains or seeds) The vegetable oils are highly refined and inflammatory. They contain easily oxidized omega 6 fats that feed the production of inflammatory mediators in your body and create oxidized LDL leading to atherosclerosis.

Exercise daily, preferably outside in a green space. Twice per week spend 20-30 minutes  doing resistance training (lift weights, work against the resistance of bands, use your own body weight doing pushups, pull-ups etc)

Reduce stress with mediation, yoga, tai chi, dancing, engaging in fun sports and social activities. Walk on the beach, by a lake, river or stream, in the woods, listen to music.

Get some sunshine regularly especially during the morning to get your circadian rhythm in order and to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D.

Spend time with family, friends and colleagues who are supportive and fun to be around.

Sleep in the dark.

Get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Avoid TV, computer screens and other electronic devices for at least 2 hours before bedtime.

Unplug from the internet, email, etc on a regular basis.

We evolved as hunter-gatherers.

Peace

Bob Hansen MD

 

 

Chronic Pain: How does it occur and what can be done about it?

I have discussed the effects of nutrition, stress-reduction, sleep, and circadian rhythm on pain in previous posts . I have not yet discussed the theory of how chronic pain develops and persists. This post discusses some of the mechanisms involved in chronic pain as well as therapeutic approaches that have proven to be effective in addressing the root causes of chronic pain and suffering.

THE CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (BRAIN AND SPINAL CORD) CAN INDEPENDENTLY CAUSE PAIN AND OTHER PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS THROUGH THE DEVELOPMENT OF LEARNED NERVE PATHWAYS. THESE PATHWAYS INCLUDE CIRCUITS WITHIN THE BRAIN AND CIRCUITS CONNECTING THE SPINAL CORD TO VARIOUS PARTS OF THE BRAIN. THEY CAN PRODUCE PAIN EVEN IN THE ABSENCE OF ONGOING TISSUE DAMAGE.

THESE LEARNED NERVE PATHWAYS CAN DEVELOP AS A RESULT OF SEVERAL WEEKS OR MONTHS OF CONTINUOUS PAIN CAUSED BY AN INJURY OR DEGENERATIVE-INFLAMMATORY DISEASE. IF WE EXPERIENCE RELENTLESS PAINFUL IMPULSES COURSING THROUGH THE BODY THESE BOMBARD THE SPINAL CORD AND BRAIN WITH PAINFUL MESSAGES AND OUR BRAIN AND SPINAL CORD EXPERIENCE A CHANGE SIMILAR TO THE CHANGES THAT CAN OCCUR WITH PTSD CAUSED BY ONE OR MORE TRAUMATIC EVENTS.

THESE LEARNED NERVOUS SYSTEM PATHWAYS REPRESENT “NEUROPLASTICITY” MEANING CHANGES IN THE NERVOUS SYSTEM BROUGHT ABOUT BY EVENTS SUCH AS TRAUMA AND STRESS. THEY REPRESENT A “MEMORY” OF THE PAIN, TRAUMA AND STRESS IMPRINTED ON THE NERVOUS SYSTEM. THIS “MEMORY” INCLUDES NEWLY (AND OFTEN PERMANENTLY) FORMED CIRCUITS THAT OFTEN CONNECT VARIOUS PARTS OF THE BRAIN ASSOCIATED WITH PAIN, ANXIETY, DEPRESSION AND ANGER TO PARTS OF THE BRAIN AND SPINAL CORD THAT MEDIATE SENSATIONS OF LIGHT TOUCH AND PRESSURE. THESE CONNECTIONS PRODUCE “ALLODYNIA” WHICH IS A PAINFUL RESPONSE TO A STIMULUS WHICH IS USUALLY NOT PAINFUL. WE CAN ALSO EXPERIENCE “HYPERALGESIA” WHICH IS AN EXAGGERATED PAIN EXPERIENCE, OUT OF PROPORTION TO THE PAINFUL STIMULUS.

THE NERVOUS SYSTEM HAS A BUILT IN “MUFFLER” DESIGNED TO DAMPEN DOWN PAIN MESSAGES BUT IN CHRONIC PAIN THIS MUFFLER BECOMES AN AMPLIFIER THAT NOT ONLY AMPLIFIES THE TRANSMISSION OF PAIN BUT ALSO CONNECTS THIS AMPLIFIED PAIN SYSTEM TO PARTS OF THE BRAIN ASSOCIATED WITH ANXIETY, ANGER, AND DEPRESSION.

ONCE THESE CIRCUITS OR PATHWAYS ARE IN PLACE (“LEARNED”) THEY CAN NOT BE ELIMINATED (“UNLEARNED”). EFFECTIVE PAIN REDUCTION REQUIRES ACTIVATING ON A REGULAR BASIS ALTERNATIVE PATHWAYS THAT ALREADY EXIST SUCH AS THOSE ASSOCIATED WITH PLAY, MUSIC, DANCE, HUMOR, LAUGHING. ACTIVATING OTHER PATHWAYS CAN ALLOW THE PAIN PATHWAYS TO BE “TURNED OFF” OR MUFFLED. AS CHILDREN WE LEARN TO PLAY AND THOSE LEARNED PATHWAYS STAY WITH US FOR LIFE. WITH PRACTICE WE CAN REGULARLY ACTIVATE THOSE BRAIN PATHWAYS AND MAKE THEM AND OTHER PATHWAYS THE PREDOMINANT PATHWAYS OF OUR BRAIN ACTIVITY.

BUT BEFORE WE CAN UTILIZE THE PLEASANT ALREADY-LEARNED PATHWAYS IN THE BRAIN TO CIRCUMVENT THE PAINFUL-ANXIOUS PATHWAYS WE MUST FIRST DEAL WITH OUR ANGER. DEALING WITH OUR NATURAL AND JUSTIFIABLE ANGER REQUIRES FORGIVENESS. UNTIL THE ANGER IS RELEASED AND FORGIVENESS ACHIEVED WE CANNOT MAKE USE OF THE THERAPIES AND STRATEGIES AVAILABLE TO DECREASE AND MANAGE OUR PAIN. ANGER BLOCKS THE PATH TO HEALING AND PAIN REDUCTION.

The brain processes an emotional insult in exactly the same way that the brain processes a physical insult. Stressful life events and our emotional reactions to them may cause pain that is severe. This is why chronic pain becomes worse when we experience a stressful event. Vicious cycles develop as multiple circuits connecting pain pathways to areas of the brain associated with anxiety and depression become activated and stay activated.

COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY: Over the course of months and years, our reaction to chronic pain often includes repetitive negative thoughts. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps us learn techniques to avoid repetitive negative thoughts.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is another technique that can help mitigate the suffering associated with pain. Mindful Meditation practiced 30 minutes per day produces measurable changes in brain activity that can be seen on Functional MRI scans of the brain within 90 days. These changes demonstrate decreased brain activity in areas associated with pain, depression, anxiety and anger. Scientific studies have also demonstrated that MBSR produces improved immune function, reduces blood pressure, reduces heart rate, improves sleep and provides other beneficial physiologic changes associated with healing and wellness. Yoga and meditation are essential components of an MBSR program.

SLEEP: Pain cannot be managed or successfully treated unless an individual gets 8-9 hours of restorative sleep per night. Sleep hygiene recommendations are an essential part of the path to wellness. Daily exposure to sunlight outdoors and restoring normal circadian rhythm are essential for pain management. Going to bed at the same time every evening and sticking to a regular schedule is the most important part of improving sleep. Daytime exposure to sunlight and dimming the lights in the evening are also required. Regular exercise (daily walking) is essential. Wearing blue-light blocking glasses for 2-3 hours before bedtime can facilitate sleep. When blue light wavelengths (light bulbs, computer screens, TV screens) hit the retina of the eye a message is immediately relayed to the “internal clock” of the brain that tells the brain there is still daylight. This inhibits the production of melatonin (the “sleep hormone”). Avoiding bright light (especially from TV or computer screens) for 2-3 hours before bedtime is important. If you must watch TV or work on the computer in the evening that blue light blocking glasses or goggles are a must. There are free software programs that will eliminate the blue light from your computer screen as an alternative to blue light blockers.

NUTRITION: Pain involves inflammatory pathways. An anti-inflammatory diet is essential for treating pain and providing the nutritional components necessary for healing tissue and establishing better brain chemistry. Paleo Diet removes potential sources of inflammation from the diet. If a patient suffers from an auto-immune disorder the more restrictive Autoimmune Protocol version of the Paleo-diet can help put the disease into remission and decrease the inflammation associated with the auto-immune process.

OBESITY AND OVERWEIGHT: Extra fat around the belly and internal organs causes chronic inflammation throughout the body. The fat cells around internal organs and the immune cells that reside alongside the fat cells both produce a steady stream of chemicals that circulate throughout the body stimulating inflammation everywhere. These circulating chemicals are called cytokines and chemokines. Certain cytokines and chemokines cause fatigue, brain fog, and sensitize the nerves, increasing pain. They also interfere with sleep. Weight loss is an essential component to pain reduction for overweight and obese patients. The best nutritional approach to weight loss includes a Paleo Diet with carbohydrate restriction (low carbohydrate, high-healthy-fat whole food diet). Adding medically supervised intermittent fasting (such as an 18- 24 hour fast every 1-2 weeks, consuming only water for 18-24 hours) can also be effective especially combined with a carbohydrate restricted Paleo Diet and lifestyle.

Exercise and Physical Conditioning: Chronic pain causes sedentary behavior which results in physical de-conditioning. This process involves loss of muscle, decreased bone density, shortening of ligaments and tendons and shrinkage of the tissues that envelope muscle. This leads to more pain when physical activity is increased and a vicious cycle is created. This cycle must be broken with a graduated daily exercise and physical conditioning program. If you follow a medically prescribed exercise program you will not damage your body even though it may be painful during the first several days. Exercise also helps to convert the “amplifier” back to a “muffler” in the nervous system.

Below are some links to articles related to this discussion.

Eat clean, live clean.

Bob Hansen MD

Applying modern pain neuroscience in clinical practice: criteria for the classification of central sensitization pain.

Central sensitization and altered central pain processing in chronic low back pain: fact or myth?

How to explain central sensitization to patients with ‘unexplained’ chronic musculoskeletal pain: practice guidelines.

Addressing sleep problems and cognitive dysfunctions in comprehensive rehabilitation for chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Exercise therapy for chronic musculoskeletal pain: Innovation by altering pain memories.

Efficacy of a modern neuroscience approach versus usual care evidence-based physiotherapy on pain, disability and brain characteristics in chronic spinal pain patients: protocol of a randomized clinical trial.

The effect of relaxation therapy on autonomic functioning, symptoms and daily functioning, in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia: a systematic review.

Pro-nociceptive and anti-nociceptive effects of a conditioned pain modulation protocol in participants with chronic low back pain and healthy control subjects.

Vagal modulation and symptomatology following a 6-month aerobic exercise program for women with fibromyalgia.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor as a driving force behind neuroplasticity in neuropathic and central sensitization pain: a new therapeutic target?

The role of central sensitization in shoulder pain: A systematic literature review.

Chronic whiplash-associated disorders: to exercise or not?

Exercise, not to exercise, or how to exercise in patients with chronic pain? Applying science to practice.

Evidence for central sensitization in patients with osteoarthritis pain: a systematic literature review.

Malfunctioning of the autonomic nervous system in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: a systematic literature review.

Endogenous pain modulation in response to exercise in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and comorbid fibromyalgia, and healthy controls: a double-blind randomized controlled trial.

You may need a nerve to treat pain: the neurobiological rationale for vagal nerve activation in pain management.

Avoidance behavior towards physical activity in chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia: the fear for post-exertional malaise.

The role of mitochondrial dysfunctions due to oxidative and nitrosative stress in the chronic pain or chronic fatigue syndromes and fibromyalgia patients: peripheral and central mechanisms as therapeutic targets?

Thinking beyond muscles and joints: therapists’ and patients’ attitudes and beliefs regarding chronic musculoskeletal pain are key to applying effective treatment.

Evidence for central sensitization in chronic whiplash: a systematic literature review.

Pain in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: time for specific pain treatment?

Kinesiophobia, catastrophizing and anticipated symptoms before stair climbing in chronic fatigue syndrome: an experimental study.

Central sensitization in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic literature review.

 

A Paleo physician’s journey through major surgery

At age 46 I had a total hip arthroplasty (THA). Metal and plastic components replaced my hip joint (the stem, ball and socket of the hip). I am convinced that if I had adopted a Paleo lifestyle at age twenty instead of age 58 I would have not needed that surgery. But more about that another time.

On Monday I underwent a revision of that surgery to replace some components, scrape out bad bone, remove inflamed joint lining, flush out plastic debris, and place some bone grafts into areas where bone cysts had formed. The surgery was necessary because the plastic debris from my first artificial joint had stimulated my immune system in a way that caused my macrophages (white blood cells) and osteoclasts (a special kind of bone cell) to start destroying the bone around my hip socket. This process is called osteolysis.

Our immune cells evolved to destroy and consume bacteria and viruses, not plastic powder. So as the plastic liner of my hip prosthesis wore down, the plastic debris provided a constant source of inflammation, stimulating my immune system to get rid of a foreign invader. The bone around my prosthesis got caught in friendly fire. This problem does not seem to occur since a newer form of plastic, having only 10% the wear rate of the old plastic has been introduced. Time will tell if that proves to be true.

To prepare for surgery I reviewed my Paleo behavior with respect to diet, sleep, exercise, stress reduction and outdoor time. My exercise routine was already very reasonable. I had been strictly avoiding grains (except for occasional white rice) and legumes but did include some fermented dairy (kefir and cheese) and wine. So I eliminated all dairy and all alcohol. Sleep has always been an issue because as a physician I take call and sometimes work through the night with emergency cases.

My last call night was 3 weeks before surgery and I was up all night. The next day I flew to NJ for two important events (a reunion and a wedding) both of which were definitely not Paleo environments. A flight cancelation required more sleep deprivation in order to reach my first event on time. That sleep deprivation in combination with the changes in time zone disrupted my circadian rhythm so upon returning home two weeks before surgery I knew I had to play catch-up to be ready for surgery. I avoided alcohol except for a few drinks at my brother’s wedding and violated the wheat prohibition once with a piece of wedding cake.

When I returned to California I was 6 pounds heavier and jet lagged. I promptly got an upper respiratory infection (probably acquired on my flight home) which started in my throat and nose and went to my lungs.

So now I am jet-lagged and infected just two weeks from surgery. Not a good situation.

Thereafter I was strictly Paleo in diet, sleep, and stress reduction (yoga and meditation) but had to limit exercise to yoga and walking in order to fight the infection and prepare for surgery. I spent as much time walking outdoors as was feasible and focused on eight hours sleep each night. After one week I was beating the URI so I decided to do two 30 minute sessions of resistance training during the last week before surgery.

By the day of surgery the URI was completely cleared and I was down 6 pounds to my baseline.

I self administered my own pre-operative medication protocol (designed to mitigate post operative pain) and received a spinal anesthetic from my friend and colleague using a combination of local anesthetic and a small dose of spinal morphine. The latter can provide pain reduction for up to 24 hours after surgery.

So here is the amazing result.

5 hours after surgery I walked without pain using a walker bearing full weight on the surgical leg. I walked again that evening without pain. I knew this was the honeymoon period because the spinal morphine was still protecting me.

The next morning the honeymoon was over but I was still able to walk with full weight bearing without any pain medications and subsequently walked several times up and down the hospital halls during the first three post operative days. Although I had pain with movement I had no pain at rest.

On the day after surgery my CRP (C reactive protein) was 0.2 mg/dl. CRP is a measure of inflammation in the body. Normal range is zero to 0.5. I was elated. One day after a major traumatic event which typically initiates an inflammatory cascade, I did not have excess inflammation throughout my body as measured by CRP. My WBC (white blood cell count) was also normal.

A paleo lifestyle will not prevent pain after surgery but being in a low inflammatory state before surgery certainly helped with recovery.

My walking ability immediately after surgery and during the next three days astounded the physical therapists and nurses. They all stated I had set records.

My colleagues in the Anesthesia Department could not believe that I received no opiate or NSAID pain medications during my recovery. It is now five days since surgery. I have taken no opiate pain killers or NSAIDs except for low dose aspirin (starting yesterday) to help prevent blood clots

I avoided NSAIDs because NSAIDs increase intestinal permeability (which leads to an inflammatory response) and also because NSAIDs increase risk of cardiovascular events (heart attack, stroke, blood clots in the legs which can travel to the lungs and cause death in severe cases)

I can attribute my success to many factors including an excellent anesthetic, a great surgeon, an optimal pre-operative medication protocol, the superb nursing and therapy staffs and the Paleo lifestyle. In preparing for surgery I was able to make an effective come back from a stressful travel week, two successive nights of sleep deprivation and an upper respiratory infection only because of the Paleo approach.

As I walked my laps around the orthopedic unit I noticed that most patients spent the entire day in bed except for a few laps each day with PT. Many factors contribute to that problem. Our PT department is very aggressive but post operative pain, obesity, inflammatory diets and sedentary lifestyles all contribute to slow recovery. The hospital menu is highly inflammatory thick with processed-carbohydrates, pro-inflammatory grains, legumes, and refined vegetable oils, and yes,  even some trans fats. A strictly Paleo menu would be very helpful. But most of those patients have been living the Standard American Lifestyle (inflammatory diet, chronic sleep deprivation, inadequate exercise, poor stress management, etc.)  for a lifetime prior to surgery and it can take months to years of a Paleo lifestyle to mitigate a lifetime of self abuse. Even then some damage is permanent (like my hip).

I ate the hospital’s fresh fruit, vegetables and wild seafood, the rest was delivered from home by my loving spouse. Kathie is my anchor in the storm and my guiding light when I become lost. The importance of love and human physical contact is well recognized by the Paleo community so it is appropriate that I end with an expression of gratitude to Kathie and the host of friends who visited me during recovery. Hugs and kisses are as important as an anti-inflammatory diet.

Live clean and prosper.

Bob Hansen MD

Stress Reduction and Health

Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) has been demonstrated to have beneficial effects relative to several physiologic measurements in humans. These include improved immune status, decreased inflammation as measured by blood tests, improved DNA repair (increased telomere length), and alterations in metabolic activity in areas of the brain that are viewed as beneficial relative to stress, anxiety and pain as measured by functional MRI scan of the brain (fMRI). Similarly other forms of meditation have been studied relative to cardiovascular risk in humans. The results indicate that stress reduction from meditation can decrease the “composite risk of death, heart attack and stroke” by 48% in patients who have experienced a previous heart attack. (1)

“A selected mind-body intervention, the TM program, significantly reduced risk for mortality, myocardial infarction, and stroke in coronary heart disease patients. These changes were associated with lower blood pressure and psychosocial stress factors. Therefore, this practice may be clinically useful in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”

This degree of protection exceeds the benefits of statin drugs in patients who have had a heart attack  and exceeds the risk reduction accomplished by cardiac rehabilitation exercise programs.

A review of studies on the effects of meditation on cardiovascular disease reported: (2)

Psychosocial stress is a nontraditional risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality that may respond to behavioral or psychosocial interventions. …. Randomized controlled trials, meta-analyses, and other controlled studies indicate this meditation technique reduces risk factors and can slow or reverse the progression of pathophysiological changes underlying cardiovascular disease. Studies with this technique have revealed reductions in blood pressure, carotid artery intima-media thickness, myocardial ischemia, left ventricular hypertrophy, mortality, and other relevant outcomes. The magnitudes of these effects compare favorably with those of conventional interventions for secondary prevention

Dr. Dean Ornish utilized both meditation and yoga training in his lifestyle intervention program along with moderate exercise, smoke cessation and elimination of junk food (low fat vegan diet). The results demonstrated reduced coronary artery plaque within 2 years. Although many have attributed this to the vegan low fat diet, I have suggested in the past that the beneficial results were accomplished by stress reduction, exercise, smoke cessation, and elimination of junk food (especially refined sugar, flour, trans-fats and refined vegetable oils)

Our culture is not attuned to the regular practice of meditation or yoga. When I recommend stress reduction with these techniques to my patients few pursue it despite providing them with detailed descriptions of the physical benefits demonstrated by medical studies. One does not need to become a Buddhist in order to benefit from the practice of meditation. In the early 1970s the first stress reduction clinic utilizing MBSR(Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and Yoga was established at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center by Jon Kabat Zinn PhD. Since then many studies have documented the benefits of stress reduction relative to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, chronic pain management, depression and anxiety.

Patients who have experienced their first major depressive episode can reduce the risk of a subsequent major depressive episode by 50% simply practicing MBSR regularly.

Unlike drugs, angioplasty, coronary stents, surgery, and injections, meditation and yoga have no potential negative side effects or complications. They simply require time, practice and a modest amount of training. Inexpensive self-help books, CDs and on-line resources are available to get started. Measurable physiologic benefits are experienced within a few weeks. Blood pressure drops, stress hormones decrease, blood sugars come down, insulin sensitivity improves, immune cells work better, sleep improves, suffering from chronic pain decreases, and functional status improves. That’s a considerable amount of benefit achieved by simply sitting quietly and observing your breath as it moves in and out of your body.

Meditation and yoga are two ways to reduce stress. For a healthy life to achieve stress reduction we must examine many areas. What aspects of daily life can increase and decrease stress and our physiologic response to stress?

Important factors to consider include social isolation, physical and social contact with friends/family/pets, meaningful work, laughter and humor, time spent outdoors, exercise, proper sleep habits and exposure to natural rather than artificial light. These all play significant roles in governing our stress levels, physiologic response to stress and the attendant changes in health.

Social isolation is harmful while regular contact with family and friends is beneficial. Caring for a pet seems to reduce blood pressure and enhance longevity. Engaging in meaningful work for pay or as a volunteer is essential for health, longevity and happiness. Spending time outdoors regularly and cycling your daily activity with the sun (circadian rhythm normalization) are essential to health and stress reduction. Laughter and social interaction provide healing while rumination over problems causes illness. All of these aspects to healthy living deserve attention but if you are ill, overweight, suffer chronic pain, disability or substance abuse then meditation and yoga can have profoundly beneficial effects. When combined with a Paleolithic diet and adequate restorative sleep, stress reduction techniques provide a powerful healing pathway.

Below is a long list of links to articles related to stress reduction, meditation, and yoga in the areas of chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, cancer, pre-natal care, anxiety disorders, depression, insomnia, smoke cessation, burnout, immune function, inflammation, migraine, blood pressure control, traumatic brain injury and even psoriasis.

Read to your heart’s content.

Bob Hansen MD

(1) Stress reduction in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease: randomized, controlled trial of transcendental meditation and health education in Blacks.

(2) Psychosocial stress and cardiovascular disease Part 2: effectiveness of the Transcendental Meditation program in treatment and prevention.

Here is the long list of other references. I have tried to group them in categories. There is allot of overlap between categories so my classification is somewhat arbitrary.

Asthma

Yoga intervention for adults with mild-to-moderate asthma: a pilot study.

Cardiovascular Disease:

Stress reduction in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease: randomized, controlled trial of transcendental meditation and health education in Blacks.

Usefulness of the transcendental meditation pro… [Am J Cardiol. 1996] – PubMed – NCBI

A randomised controlled trial of stress reduction for hypertension in older African Americans.

Effect of meditation on endothelial function in Black Americans with metabolic syndrome: a randomized trial.

Is there a role for stress management in reducing hypertension in African Americans?

Trial of stress reduction for hypertension in older African Americans. II. Sex and risk subgroup analysis.

Yoga for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for prehypertension.

Yoga Nidra relaxation increases heart rate variability and is unaffected by a prior bout of Hatha yoga.

Influence of psychosocial factors and biopsychosocial interventions on outcomes after myocardial infarction.

Influence of psychosocial factors and biopsychosocial interventions on outcomes after myocardial infarction.

Trial of relaxation in reducing coronary risk: four year follow up.

When and why do heart attacks occur? Cardiovascular triggers and their potential role.

Emotional stressors trigger cardiovascular events.

How brain influences neuro-cardiovascular dysfunction.

CNS effects:

Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation

Central and autonomic nervous system interaction is altered by short-term meditation

Neruoimaging and EEG

Neural mechanisms of mindfulness and meditation: Evidence from neuroimaging studies.

Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate

Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation

Meditation’s impact on default mode network and hippocampus in mild cognitive impairment: a pilot study.

Mindfulness starts with the body: somatosensory attention and top-down modulation of cortical alpha rhythms in mindfulness meditation.

Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary somatosensory cortex.

Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary somatosensory cortex.

Cancer:

Increased mindfulness is related to improved stress and mood following participation in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program in individuals with cancer.

Impact of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on attention, rumination and resting blood pressure in women with cancer: a waitlist-controlled study.

A non-randomized comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and healing arts programs for facilitating post-traumatic growth and spirituality in cancer outpatients.

One year pre-post intervention follow-up of psychological, immune, endocrine and blood pressure outcomes of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in breast and prostate cancer outpatients.

Impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on sleep, mood, stress and fatigue symptoms in cancer outpatients.

Keeping the balance–an overview of mind-body therapies in pediatric oncology.

Randomised controlled trials of yoga interventions for women with breast cancer: a systematic literature review.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction in relation to quality of life, mood, symptoms of stress and levels of cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) and melatonin in breast and prostate cancer outpatients.

A pilot study evaluating the effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction on psychological status, physical status, salivary cortisol, and interleukin-6 among advanced-stage cancer patients and their caregivers.

Can diet in conjunction with stress reduction affect the rate of increase in prostate specific antigen after biochemical recurrence of prostate cancer?

Meditation, melatonin and breast/prostate cancer: hypothesis and preliminary data.

Diabetes

Mindfulness-based stress reduction is associated with improved glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a pilot study.

Immune System:

Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation.

Insomnia and Sleep Physiology.

Mind-body interventions for the treatment of insomnia: a review.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction compared with cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of insomnia comorbid with cancer: a randomized, partially blinded, noninferiority trial.

Experienced mindfulness meditators exhibit higher parietal-occipital EEG gamma activity during NREM sleep.

I-CAN SLEEP: rationale and design of a non-inferiority RCT of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the treatment of Insomnia in CANcer survivors.

New insights into circadian aspects of health and disease.

Irritable Bowel

Mindfulness-based stress reduction for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms: a randomized wait-list controlled trial.

 

Pain:

A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation.

The validation of an active control intervention for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

[Mindfulness-based therapeutic approaches: benefits for individuals suffering from pain].

Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress.

Mindfulness starts with the body: somatos… [Front Hum Neurosci. 2013] – PubMed – NCBI

Altered anterior insula activation during anticipation and experience of painful stimuli in expert meditators.

Differential effects on pain intensity and unpleasantness of two meditation practices.

Self-directed Mindfulness Training and Improvement in Blood Pressure, Migraine Frequency, and Quality of Life.

Effectiveness of mindfulness meditation (Vipassana) in the management of chronic low back pain.

Mindfulness meditation in the control of severe headache.

The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain.

An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: theoretical considerations and preliminary results.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice.

Psych, Depression, Anxiety, Burnout, Students

Mindfulness meditation practices as adjunctive treatments for psychiatric disorders.

Reducing psychological distress and obesity through Yoga practice

Yoga and social support reduce prenatal depression, anxiety and cortisol.

Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being [Internet].

Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Tai chi training reduces self-report of inattention in healthy young adults.

Mindfulness for teachers: A pilot study to assess effects on stress, burnout and teaching efficacy.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Low-Income, Predominantly African American Women With PTSD and a History of Intimate Partner Violence.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for generalized anxiety disorder.

Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Enhanced response inhibition during intensive meditation training predicts improvements in self-reported adaptive socioemotional functioning.

Intensive meditation training improves perceptual discrimination and sustained attention.

Home-based deep breathing for depression in patients with coronary heart disease: a randomised controlled trial.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction lowers psychological distress in medical students.

Yoga and exercise for symptoms of depression and anxiety in people with poststroke disability: a randomized, controlled pilot trial.

The effect of yoga on coping strategies among intensive care unit nurses.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health-related quality of life in a heterogeneous patient population.

Developing mindfulness in college students through movement-based courses: effects on self-regulatory self-efficacy, mood, stress, and sleep quality.

Differential effects of mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving-kindness meditation on decentering and negative reactions to repetitive thoughts.

Psychological and neural mechanisms of trait mindfulness in reducing depression vulnerability.

A narrative review of yoga and mindfulness as complementary therapies for addiction.

The acute effects of yogic breathing exercises on craving and withdrawal symptoms in abstaining smokers.

Yoga and massage therapy reduce prenatal depression and prematurity.

Mind-body interventions during pregnancy for preventing or treating women’s anxiety.

Misc. and General

Mindfulness-based interventions for physical conditions: a narrative review evaluating levels of evidence.

Evaluation of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program for caregivers of children with chronic conditions.

Empirical explorations of mindfulness: conceptual and methodological conundrums.

Mindfulness meditation: do-it-yourself medicalization of every moment.

Becoming conscious: the science of mindfulness.

Meditate to medicate.

Mindfulness in medicine.

Cultivating mindfulness: effects on well-being.

Mind-body medicine. An introduction and review of the literature.

Tai chi chuan in medicine and health promotion.

Tai chi/yoga effects on anxiety, heartrate, EEG and math computations.

Mindfulness Research Update: 2008.

Development and preliminary evaluation of a telephone-based mindfulness training intervention for survivors of critical illness.

A randomized controlled trial of Koru: a mindfulness program for college students and other emerging adults.

Hair Cortisol as a Biomarker of Stress in Mindfulness Training for Smokers.

A review of the literature examining the physiological processes underlying the therapeutic benefits of Hatha yoga.

Body Awareness: a phenomenological inquiry into the common ground of mind-body therapies.

Cortical dynamics as a therapeutic mechanism for touch healing.

Establishing key components of yoga interventions for musculoskeletal conditions: a Delphi survey.

Hatha yoga on body balance.

Yoga might be an alternative training for the quality of life and balance in postmenopausal osteoporosis.

Becoming conscious: the science of mindfulness.

Organ Transplant

Mindfulness meditation to reduce symptoms after organ transplant: a pilot study.

Post Traumatic Brain Injury

A pilot study examining the effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction on symptoms of chronic mild traumatic brain injury/postconcussive syndrome.

Psoriasis

Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA).

Telemorase, DNA, Genes

Rapid changes in histone deacetylases and inflammatory gene expression in expert meditators.

Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres.

Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators.

Contemplative practice, chronic fatigue, and telomerase activity: a comment on Ho et al.

Toward a unified field of study: longevity, regeneration, and protection of health through meditation and related practices.