Mindfulness is one of the 150 so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) that I have evaluated in my recent book ‘Alternative Medicine: A Critical Assessment of 150 Modalities‘. Here is an excerpt from my text:
Mindfulness is a form of meditation which involves bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment while sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body.
- Many experts do not consider mindfulness to be an alternative therapy but see it as a set of psychological methods that have long become well-accepted, conventional treatments.
- There are several forms of mindfulness meditation; one of the best-known and most thoroughly researched is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn (1944- ). It uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga to help people become more mindful.
- Mindfulness programs are currently popular and have been widely adopted in schools, hospitals, and other settings. They are also being applied to initiatives such as for healthy aging, weight management, athletic performance enhancement, for children with special needs, and as a help during the perinatal period.
- Novices are advised to start with short periods of about 10 minutes of meditation practice per day. With regular practice, it becomes easier to keep the attention focused and the length of time spent practising can be extended.
- There has been much research interest in mindfulness, and many studies are now available. However, the quality of these trials is often poor which is one reason why the evidence is less clear than one would hope.
- Several systematic reviews have assessed mindfulness for various medical conditions, e. g.:
- A systematic review of mindfulness for chronic headaches concluded that, due to the low number, small scale and often high or unclear risk of bias of included randomized controlled trials, the results are imprecise; this may be consistent with either an important or negligible effect. Therefore, more rigorous trials with larger sample sizes are needed.
- A systematic review of mindfulness for addictions found support for the effectiveness of the mindfulness-based interventions.
- An overview included 26 reviews and found a substantially consistent picture… Improvements in depressive disorders, particularly recurrent major depression, were strongly supported. Evidence for other psychological conditions was limited by lack of data. In populations with physical conditions, the evidence for significant improvements in psychological well-being was clear, regardless of population or specific mindfulness intervention. Changes in physical health measures were inconclusive; however, pain acceptance and coping were improved.
- Some reports have linked mindfulness to increasing fear and anxiety panic or “meltdowns” after treatments. However, these seem to be rare events; in general, mindfulness is considered to be a safe therapy.
Now there is new evidence regarding the safety of Mindfulness, including an estimate of the incidence of adverse effects. An article in the NEW SCIENTIST warned that about one in 12 people who try meditation experience an unwanted negative effect, usually a worsening in depression or anxiety, or even the onset of these conditions for the first time, according to the first systematic review of the evidence. “For most people it works fine but it has undoubtedly been overhyped and it’s not universally benevolent,” says Miguel Farias at Coventry University in the UK, one of the researchers behind a paper which as yet is not available on-line.
Farias’s team combed through medical journals and found 55 relevant studies. Once the researchers had excluded those that had deliberately set out to find negative effects, they worked out the prevalence of people who experienced harms within each study and then calculated the average, adjusted for the study size, a common method in this kind of analysis. They found that about 8 per cent people who try meditation experience an unwanted effect. “People have experienced anything from an increase in anxiety up to panic attacks,” says Farias. They also found instances of psychosis or thoughts of suicide.
I will add a link to the original paper, once it has been published