“Our results provide evidence that MBSR, when added to lifestyle modification advice, may be an appropriate complementary treatment for BP in the prehypertensive range,” said Joel W. Hughes, PhD, of Kent State University in Ohio.
The study included 56 women and men diagnosed with prehypertension — blood pressure that was higher than desirable, but not so high that antihypertensive drugs would be prescribed.
Prehypertension is receiving increased attention from doctors because it is associated with a wide range of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. About 30 percent of Americans have prehypertension and may be prescribed medications for this condition, according to the researchers.
One group of patients was assigned to a program of MBSR, which included eight group sessions of 2 1/2 hours per week. Led by an experienced instructor, the sessions included three types of mindfulness skills: Body scan exercises, sitting meditation, and yoga exercises. Patients were also encouraged to perform mindfulness exercises at home.
The other group received lifestyle advice, plus a muscle-relaxation activity.
At the conclusion of the program, patients in the mindfulness-based intervention group had significant reductions in blood pressure measurements, according to the researchers.
Systolic blood pressure (the first, higher number) decreased by an average of nearly 5 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), compared to less than 1 mm Hg in the group who did not receive the mindfulness intervention.
Diastolic blood pressure (the second, lower number) was also lower in the mindfulness-based intervention group — showing a reduction of nearly 2 mm Hg, compared to an increase of 1 mm Hg in the control group.
“Mindfulness-based stress reduction is an increasingly popular practice that has been purported to alleviate stress, treat depression and anxiety, and treat certain health conditions,” Hughes said.
While previous studies have reported small but significant reductions in blood pressure with Transcendental Meditation, the new study is the first to specifically evaluate the blood pressure effects of mindfulness-based intervention in patients with prehypertension, the researchers noted.
Although the blood pressure reductions associated with mindfulness-based interventions were modest, they are similar to many drug interventions — and potentially large enough to lead to reductions in the risk of heart attack or stroke, the researchers said.
Further studies are needed to see if the blood pressure-lowering effects are sustained over time, the researchers add.
The researchers also argue that mindfulness-based interventions may provide a useful alternative to help “prevent or delay” the need for antihypertensive medications in patients with borderline high blood pressure.
The study was published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.
Source: Wolters Kluwer Health