Newspaper article

Mindfulness Research: Separating the Hype from the Science

Newspaper article

Mindfulness Research: Separating the Hype from the Science

Article excerpt

Is all the recent hype about the health benefits of mindfulness meditation justified?

That's the question Timothy Caulfield, a health law and policy researcher at the University of Alberta (and author of the new book "Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash"), thoughtfully explores in a recent online commentary for the journal Policy Options, which is published by the Canadian Institute for Research on Public Policy.

"Is mindfulness a science-based approach to health and wellbeing or a philosophy about how we should live?" he asks. "If the former, what does the good science actually say about the benefits? If the latter, does it matter what the science says, and what, then, is its place in an (allegedly) evidence-based health care system? And, perhaps most challenging, can it be both?"

'No firm conclusions'

Caulfield notes that, despite the fact that celebrities, sports stars and business leaders have enthusiastically endorsed claims for the physical and mental benefits of mindfulness meditation, the scientific evidence "is far less definitive."

He explains:

A rigorous 2014 systematic review of available evidence on the impact of meditation on stress and well-being, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, reviewed over 18,000 citations and found 47 randomized clinical trials worthy of consideration. Using only these high-quality studies, it concluded there is moderate evidence to support the benefits associated with anxiety and depression and either insufficient evidence or evidence of no effect "on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight."

More importantly, the study also found no evidence "that meditation programs were better than any active treatment." Mindfulness was not better than, for example, exercise. In part, this may be because many of the studies on mindfulness and meditation are, from a methodological perspective, less than ideal. …

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