Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is caused by the immune system attacking and destroying the fatty myelin coating that surrounds and insulates nerve cells, a process that is known as demyelination. Some of the common symptoms experienced by people with MS include fatigue, muscle spasms, walking difficulties, or numbness and tingling of the face, body, arms and legs.
As the number of medicines approved to treat MS increases, so does interest in the use of complementary and alternative medicines that address MS symptoms while improving patients’ quality of life.
One of these alternatives, which are collectively known as complementary mind-body techniques, is meditation. Although meditation in all its forms is an old practice, its use as a medical treatment has gained attention in many countries only in the past few decades.
There are a variety of meditation techniques. They include mindfulness-based meditation, including mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR; mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT; and mantra meditation, including transcendental and clinically standardized meditation.
Using meditation as an adjunct to MS treatments has been shown to help reduce stress, which plays a significant role in MS flares. Researchers at the MS Clinic of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center followed 23 relapsing MS patients for a year to determine if stress could trigger MS exacerbations. They found that 85% of such flares were related to stressful life events.
People with MS usually have elevated levels of cortisol, a hormone that the body releases in response to stress.
Some researchers suggest that higher cortisol levels lead to people with MS developing resistance to cortisol. That means they do not benefit from the hormone’s normal anti-inflammatory effects.
Meditation has been shown to decrease cortisol levels and improve sleep in both beginning and experienced meditation practitioners. Since stress has been linked to MS relapses, and meditation has been shown to relieve biological markers of stress, it could help slow MS progression by regulating the body’s stress response.
A few studies have explored spiritual wellbeing in conditions such as MS. An eight-week Swiss study covered 150 MS patients. It explored changes in their spiritual and emotional wellbeing, life satisfaction, and ability to function during and after rehabilitation. The study found meditation especially useful for addressing such MS symptoms as fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
Iranian researchers studied 56 women with MS in the city of Shiraz who had eight sessions of mindfulness-integrated cognitive behavior therapy (MiCBT), each for two hours a day. Those in the treatment group had significantly lower mean scores of depression, anxiety, and stress compared with those in the control group. This suggested that MiCBT may be an effective and affordable complementary treatment for reducing these MS symptoms.
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