Mindfulness may have been over-hyped
May 7, 2018
A 2017 article that assessed evidence on meditation as a treatment for PTSD summed up the overall state of affairs: “This line of research is in its relative infancy.”Mindfulness meditation has been practiced for millennia – and today is a billion-dollar business. But how much does the practice really change our health?
In combat veterans with PTSD, mindfulness-based group therapy increased healthy connections in parts of the brain that control ruminating (Credit: Getty Images)In late 1971, US Navy veteran Stephen Islas returned from Vietnam, but the war continued to rage in his head. “I came very close to committing suicide when I came home, I was that emotionally and mentally damaged,” Islas remembers. At his college campus in Los Angeles, a friend suggested he check out a meditation class. He was sceptical, but he found that before long “there were moments that started shifting, where I was happy. I would experience these glimpses of calmness.”
Forty-six years later, Islas says that he has never completely freed himself from his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which was formally diagnosed in 2000 at the Veterans Affairs (VA) West Los Angeles Medical Center. But he’s convinced that meditation has saved his life.
Various forms of meditation are now routinely offered to veterans with PTSD. It’s also touted as a therapeutic tool to help anyone suffering from conditions and disorders including stress, anxiety, depression, addiction and chronic pain. More broadly, meditation has come into vogue as a way to enhance human performance, finding its way into classrooms, businesses, sports locker rooms and people’s smartphones through Internet apps like Headspace and Calm.
“There is a common misperception in public and government domains that compelling clinical evidence exists for the broad and strong efficacy of mindfulness as a therapeutic intervention,” a group of 15 scholars wrote in a recent article entitled Mind the Hype. The reality is that mindfulness-based therapies have shown “a mixture of only moderate, low or no efficacy, depending on the disorder being treated,” the scholars wrote, citing a 2014 meta-analysis commissioned by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
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