A randomized trial of mindfulness meditation therapy has found it to be as much as four times more effective than group support sessions in reducing the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The results of the study were presented at the 2011 Digestive Disease Week meeting held in Chicago (abstract 219) and reported recently by Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News, an independent monthly newspaper for gastroenterologists.
In addition to the headline results in which mindfulness therapy compared very favourably with group support, IBS patients who participated in eight weekly meditation sessions and meditated daily at home during that period also continued to feel better three months after ending treatment.
Meditation, and mindfulness therapy in particular, have become a common treatment offered to people suffering from a range of chronic illnesses including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and depression and anxiety. The growth of mindfulness therapy has come from changing attitudes about mind-body medicine and a wealth of clinical data that has found the therapy to have very positive results across a range of diseases.
The study’s lead investigator Susan Gaylord, PhD, director of the Program on Integrative Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, described mindfulness meditation as a behavioural technique that teaches patients to “attend to present-moment experience and nonjudgmental awareness of sensations and emotions, as well as to let go of fixations on thoughts of past and future.” Although based in the meditative practices of Eastern philosophies or religions such as Buddhism, there is no mention of this in the mindfulness therapy used in the West. The therapy is effective in its own right.
The study involved a total of 66 women with IBS. Of those, 34 were randomly assigned to participate in eight weekly sessions of a mindfulness program and another 32 women with IBS to attend eight weekly support groups. The researchers measured the severity of IBS symptoms using a range of measures; the IBS Severity Scale (IBS-SS), the IBS Quality of Life (IBS-QOL) scale, the Brief Symptom Inventory-18 (BSI-18) and the Visceral Sensitivity Index (VSI). These were all administered to each patient prior to and following treatment as well as three months after the study ended.
Scores for both groups were comparable before treatment. Dr. Gaylord’s team found IBS-SS scores among mindfulness program participants dropped by an average of 25.4% at the end of the two-month treatment period, compared with only 6.2% for women attending the support group.What's more, symptom severity continued to drop three months after formal treatment ended, with a 38.2% and 11.8% reduction in IBS-SS scores respectively compared to before treatment began.
Additionally, scores on the IBS-QOL, the BSI-18 anxiety subscale and the VSI were all significantly better among mindfulness therapy recipients than support group attendees three months after the end of treatment.
Dr. Gaylord noted that participants could continue the mindfulness practice at home after the study had ended with the same not being true of the support group attendees. She concluded “Mindfulness-based stress management programs are widely accessible through medical and health institutions in the United States, and physicians can safely refer their patients to these programs.”