Mindfulness is long believed to be a calming activity. A new study has now provided evidence of its benefits in reducing high blood pressure.
There’s anecdotal evidence that mindfulness training and meditation may be able to reduce hypertension and high blood pressure. However, we barely have clinical confirmation of these claims until November 2019, when researchers published a new study in the journal PLOS One.
The authors of the study report the results of an MB-BP (Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure Reduction program) mainly designed to evaluate feasibility, acceptability and effects on hypnotized proximal self-regulation mechanisms.
Participants who enrolled in this MB-BP program experienced significant reductions in blood pressure levels that were still effective at follow-up examinations one year after the trial.
Hypertension is a big risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death globally. However, treating hypertension has been a big challenge for doctors.
According to Eric Loucks, the lead author, “We know enough about hypertension that we can theoretically control it in everybody – yet in about half of all people diagnosed, it is still out of control.”
The blood pressure challenge and MB-BP
When someone is diagnosed with high blood pressure by doctors, they typically recommend healthy eating, which includes reducing salt intake, as well as weight loss and regular exercise. However, some people may find permanent lifestyle changes hard to maintain.
In some people, hypertension is a genetic component, and changes to lifestyle don’t bring blood pressure down into the normal range.
In the MP-BP curriculum, mindfulness is incorporated to address high blood pressure directly and to also help people strengthen their ability to maintain healthy habits that can keep high blood pressure under control.
Loucks and his colleagues developed a 10-session program that followed 43 participants with elevated or high blood pressure for one year. Over 80% of participants had hypertension, with blood pressure reading of 130 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) systolic over 85 mmHg diastolic or higher.
The other participants had systolic reading between 120 mmHg and 130 mmHg, with a diastolic measurement of at least 80 mmHg.
Locks says, “The program was a deliberately multimodal intervention that taught participants a variety of methods. These include mindfulness training and explanations of how behaviors can contribute to high blood pressure.” Participants are also encouraged to take medication as prescribed by their doctors.
The effect of the MB-BP curriculum
After a year, the blood pressure of participants was still lower than at baseline. Also, their self-management skills remain strong. Participants who find it difficult to follow a healthful lifestyle recommendation before this study had maintained lifestyle changes.
Those with stage 2 controlled hypertension, characterized by a systolic measurement of more than 140 mmHg were the participants that benefited most from the program. These participants saw a mean reduction in their blood pressure of 15.1 mmHg.
Additional testing is underway through a randomized control trial involving 200 participants. Loucks says, “Future trials could involve a dismantling study, where we would take out some of the health education, for instance, and see if mindfulness training still had significant effects.”
Loucks is hopeful that the results of the study can change lives: “I hope that these projects will lead to a paradigm shift in terms of the treatment options for people with high blood pressure.”
Eric Loucks says, “The hope is that if we can begin mindfulness training early in life, we can promote a trajectory of healthy aging across the rest of people’s lives. That will reduce their chances of getting high blood pressure in the first place.”