Q: Since the result of high blood pressure over many years is usually hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), leading to complications of stroke and heart attack, is there evidence that the Transcendental Meditation technique can reduce atherosclerosis?
Dr Kaplan: A groundbreaking study published in the journal Stroke showed that the thickness of the wall of the carotid artery, a warning sign for hardening of the arteries, is reduced with regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique.
Q: How can the Transcendental Meditation technique affect the physical risk factors for atherosclerosis, such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance?
Dr Molina: The Transcendental Meditation technique, even though it is a mental technique, brings about a unique neuro-psycho-physiological state. Those changes in the physiology lead to a drop in cholesterol and a drop in blood pressure. When you lower your blood pressure and your cholesterol, you decrease your risk of atherosclerosis. Studies have shown that patients with coronary heart disease who practise the Transcendental Meditation technique have less angina. On an exercise stress test subjects practising the Transcendental Meditation technique also demonstrate an increased capacity to exercise, associated with decreased ischemia, or coronary artery insufficiency.
It’s also important to recognise that high blood pressure, diabetes, and tobacco use are the three most important risk factors for heart disease. At the same time, high blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke. The Transcendental Meditation technique has been shown to decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, but it particularly decreases systolic blood pressure, which is most related to increased risk for stroke. It’s also the one that is not treated well by the present pharmacologic therapy for high blood pressure.
The Transcendental Meditation technique has also been shown to reduce insulin resistance, which is considered to be a very important risk factor for diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease.
Dr Schneider: It’s true that atherosclerosis is caused by a variety of risk factors, such as high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, or insulin resistance. In addition there are underlying biochemical imbalances due to free radicals or oxidative stress. Research has shown that chronic stress contributes to the development and progression of atherosclerosis directly and by increasing just about every other risk factor for heart disease. The effects of chronic stress are mediated by stress hormones such as cortisol and by the sympathetic nervous system, which releases adrenaline and noradrenalin.
Research on the Transcendental Meditation programme has shown that it deceases most of the major risk factors for atherosclerosis [heart disease]—psychological stress, high blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol, oxidized lipids, and insulin resistance. At the level of neurohormones, there are reductions in stress hormones and sympathetic nervous system disorders. The neuro-endocrine and cardiovascular changes are likely the result of greater orderliness and balance in the central nervous system.
Besides reduction in cardiovascular risk factors, research has shown reductions in narrowing of the arteries (regression of atherosclerosis), reduced hypertrophy of the heart (left ventricular hypertrophy), and reductions in mortality from heart disease and other causes. So this is a well-established sequence of events whereby transcending through the Transcendental Meditation technique leads to greater heart health.
Q: I thought that hardening of the arteries was due primarily to genetic factors and diet. How is it that practice of TM can reduce atherosclerosis?
Dr Krag: You are right when you say that genetic factors are very important, but it is a medical fact that most people are not living as long as genes would potentially allow. Instead, they are dying years earlier. The foods you eat are important, but equally important is how your body metabolizes that food.
As an example, imagine a meal that is perfectly healthy in every way. One day you sit to eat when you are feeling calm and happy and are surrounded by loving family and friends. Another day you eat the exact same meal but you are tired, worried, angry and surrounded by discord. As far as your body is concerned, it is not the same meal and will be metabolized differently. Clearly, diet alone is not the key. The Transcendental Meditation technique produces a state of calm that we carry with us. Then we not only metabolize food better, we also “metabolize” everything that comes into the senses better.
Q: Don’t I have to change my diet to get any improvement?
Dr Schneider: No, the research showed that subjects who practised the Transcendental Meditation technique experienced a reduction in coronary risk factors without any change in diet or lifestyle. Of course, it’s always best to choose healthy foods for improved health and longevity.
Dr Molina: No, there are no dietary requirements to practise the Transcendental Meditation technique. Changing your diet is not a requirement to practise the Transcendental Meditation programme nor is it a requirement to obtain the benefits reported in research studies. However, it is always wise for patients to eat regular meals and to eat healthy, freshly prepared foods, especially fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.
Q: Do you recommend the Transcendental Meditation technique to help reduce the risk factors for heart attack and stroke?
Dr Molina: Actually, I recommend the Transcendental Meditation technique to anyone, because you don’t have to be sick to meditate.
There have been studies showing that Transcendental Meditation technique increases longevity and decreases cardiovascular death, as compared to control groups that did nothing, received regular medical care, and practised other relaxation techniques. Also, the TM technique does reduce the risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
The Transcendental Meditation technique is a very simple mental technique, and when practised regularly, it is associated with a decrease in blood pressure and improved neuro-physiological integration and endocrine integration; therefore it is a process in which you can decrease high blood pressure, decrease atherosclerosis, and at the same time become more awake, alert, bright, and happy.