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Air Pollution May Raise Blood Pressure
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
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ANIMAL CARE
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'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
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'Snowbirds' Beware the Climate Changes
Rheumatoid Arthritis May Harm Gums
Majority of College Students Report Backpack-Related Pain
CANCER
Strenuous Daily Workout May Keep Cancer at Bay
Meditation May Reduce Stress in Breast Cancer Patients
Vitamin D May Lower Colon Cancer Risk
CAREGIVING
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High Rate of Rehospitalizations Costing Billions
Birthmark or Blood Vessel Problem?
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Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
Exercise Extends Life of Kidney Patients
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Science May Banish Bad Hair Days
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
Wrinkle Fillers Need Better Label Warnings: FDA Panel
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Periodontal Disease Impacts Whole Health
Gum Disease Might Boost Cancer Risk
Laser Technology Spots Cavities Before They Start
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Spices, Herbs Boost Health for Diabetics
Diabetes Linked to Cognitive Problems
24 Million Americans Had Diabetes in 2007
DIET, NUTRITION
Eat Light - Live Longer
Leafy Greens Top Risky Food List
Polyunsaturated Fats Really May Lower Heart Risk
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Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Ozone Pollution Taking Toll on American Lives
Showerheads Harbor a Bounty of Germs
Bed Bugs Bring No Disease Danger
EYE CARE, VISION
Statin Drugs Cause Eye Disorders
Diabetic Eye Disease Rates Soaring
Thyroid Problems Boost Glaucoma Risk
FITNESS
Want to Stop Cancer? You Can, Experts Say
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
After a Stroke, Light Exercise Gets Hands, Arms Working Again
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Bowel Prep Harder on Women Than Men
HRT Use Raises Risk of Stomach Trouble
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
GENERAL HEALTH
Trans-Fat Ban In New York City Is Proving successful
Have Fun This Summer, But DO Be Careful
Asparagus May Ease Hangover
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
E-Mailing Your Way to Healthier Habits
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Walk Long, Slow and Often to Help the Heart
Obese People Seem to Do Better With Heart Disease
Heart Disease May Be Prevented By Taking Fish Oils, Study Shows
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Swine Flu Is Now a Pandemic Says W.H.O.
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
More Medicinal Uses for Pomegranate
INFERTILITY
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KID'S HEALTH
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Quick Orthopedic Repair Can Save Young Shoulders
3 Home Habits Help Youngsters Stay Slim
MEN'S HEALTH
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Eating Fast Until Full Triples Overweight Risk
Could Chinese Herb Be a Natural Viagra?
MENTAL HEALTH
Common Social Groups and Race, Seem to Help People Relate
Daily dose of beet juice promotes brain health in older adults
Breast-Fed Baby May Mean Better Behaved Child
PAIN
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Breast-Feeding Benefits Moms and Babies
Breast-Feeding May Protect a Woman's Heart
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
SENIORS
Video Gaming Just Might Fight Aging
Common Antioxidant Might Slow Parkinson's
Rapid Weight Loss in Seniors Signals Higher Dementia Risk
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
Moderate Aerobics May Ease Insomnia Symptoms
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Exercise, Weight Control May Keep Fibromyalgia at Bay
Varicose Veins May Mask Larger Problem
Alternative Treatments May Boost IVF Success
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The Zen Way to Pain Relief

THURSDAY, Jan. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Zen meditation appears to reduce sensitivity to moderate pain when practiced by well-trained individuals, Canadian researchers report.

"Previous studies had already shown that teaching patients with chronic pain to meditate seemed to help them, but no one had examined how these effects might come about," said study author Joshua A. Grant, a researcher in the department of physiology at the University of Montreal. "We reasoned that the best approach would be to study healthy people with a lot of meditation training already under their belts, because effects would presumably be strongest in them."

"The first finding then is that the meditators are much less sensitive to heat pain," noted Grant. "We [also] found that this pain reduction in meditators was related to how many lifetime hours of practice they had accumulated, with more pain reduction in the more senior practitioners."

Throughout the experiments, the researchers also found that meditators seem to breath much more slowly than non-meditators -- providing some of the first hard proof that the cardio-respiratory system could be the underlying mechanism by which meditation promotes pain control.

Grant and his University of Montreal co-author, Dr. Pierre Rainville, report the findings in the January issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the practice of meditation refers to a wide range of techniques that harness a controlled focus on objects, words, breath, or posture to invoke relaxation, calmness, psychological balance, overall wellness, and/or disease control.

Regardless of the approach, NCCAM highlights four attributes that are common to most forms of stand-alone meditation or meditation performed in conjunction with other disciplines such as yoga, tai chi, or qi gong: finding a quiet space; engaging in a comfortable (but specifically prescribed) posture; focusing; and maintaining an "open attitude" towards the flow of thought and distractions.

Grant and Rainville's study focused on the effects of Zen meditation. In essence, this technique is described as a "mindfulness-based practice" with historic roots in Buddhism, which calls for directing one's attention to one's inner as well as outer environment.

Thirteen Zen meditators, all of whom had already logged more than 1,000 hours of practice with the technique, were enrolled in the study. Between the spring and winter of 2006 the authors compared the practitioners' reactions to moderate pain to that of 13 men and women of similar age with no meditation or yoga background.

Using high-tech thermal probes, the researchers exposed the left calf area of each participant to a series of painful and non-painful heated "stimulations" ranging from 37 C (neutral) to 43 C (warm and non-painful) to a maximum of 53 C (hot and moderately painful).

During each session, participants were either instructed to keep their eyes closed and not fall asleep; to shut their eyes and focus their attention on the left leg stimulation; or to close their eyes, focus on the left leg, and try not to judge the stimulation but instead merely observe the sensation moment-to-moment.

Based on self-reported pain levels, Grant and Rainville found that the last concentration exercise, designed to simulate meditation "mindfulness," helped the meditators experience less pain, but had no impact on non-meditators.

Non-meditators were also not helped when they were told to focus on the leg stimulation. In fact, both the intensity of their pain and pain "unpleasantness" went up by 15 percent and 21 percent, respectively. In contrast, meditators given the same instruction experienced no increase on either score.

"I think this study gives credibility to the stories often heard about certain individuals sitting through painful medical or dental procedures, for example, without anesthetic, relying on hypnosis or highly focused concentration to get them through the pain," Grant said. "I'm not suggesting that if you practice Zen meditation you will never need a painkiller. But slowly, through studies like this and those on hypnosis, we're understanding that we have perhaps a lot more control over aspects of our experience than we previously believed. Having this attitude of optimism is important, both to cultivate one's own potential and to generate interest and support in understanding it scientifically."

Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, described the study as "tremendously important" and as "another brick in the foundation" supporting mind-body approaches to pain control.

"Stress is responsible for upwards of 60 to 90 percent of visits to doctors," said Benson, who is also associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "So, to point to meditation as a means to evoke a relaxation response that could enable the mind to control pain isn't that far of a leap."

He noted that prior studies have suggested that various meditative techniques help release pain-relieving endorphins. "So this study is a nice addition to already existing literature," Benson said. "And it suggests that what we have here is a relatively effective inexpensive approach that could help treat conditions that are being poorly treated by drugs and surgeries."

-Alan Mozes

More information

There's more on the health benefits of meditation at the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.



SOURCES: Joshua A. Grant, BSc, researcher, department of physiology, University of Montreal; Herbert Benson, M.D., director emeritus, Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Mass.; January 2009 Psychosomatic Medicine

Last Updated: Jan. 29, 2009

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