A new study following multiple sclerosis (MS) patients has found that doing online meditations can reduce the symptoms of depression and sleep disorders related to the illness. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder in which the myelin sheath that protects neurons is damaged, interrupting the flow of information to and from the brain. The study used 139 multiple sclerosis patients as participants and followed them through an eight-week online course about meditating.
There are many aspects of MS that can decrease a patient’s quality of life aside from physical symptoms. These are called psychosocial effects. Many treatments for MS simply do not consider these psychosocial effects as part of the treatment course. These effects can, however, have incredible detriments on a patient’s overall quality of life and should be taken as seriously as the physiological symptoms patients are experiencing.
These psychosocial effects were the basis for this study, which focused on finding ways to improve the quality of life of MS patients. The type of meditation used in the eight-week course that participants took part in is called mindfulness-based stress reduction meditation. The participants were randomly selected to take part in this course or another educational course with combined exercise. The meditation consisted of mindfulness-based stress reduction, music meditations, discussions about symptom acceptance, and video conferences with a trainer.
The researchers measured quality of life, anxiety, depression, sleep, and fatigue at the outset of the experiments, at eight weeks in (the end mark of the course), and at six months after the end of the course. The results showed significant improvement in the quality of life and a decrease of symptoms related to anxiety, depression, and sleep problems in those participants who took part in the meditation course. Fatigue was not improved or worsened in either of the groups.
“Researchers discovered that meditation actually changes the brain,” says Dr. Steven Schechter. “One way it does it is by shutting down genes that promote inflammation. When it comes to MS, inflammation is the underlying mechanism that leads to demyelination. So, anything that can be done to reduce it is worth trying.”
Six months after the end of the course, however, the patients’ symptoms had returned to the state they were before the experiment, much to the researchers’ disappointment. According to them, this relapse of symptoms is due to the cessation of the meditative practices once the eight-week course was completed. The researchers believe that finding a way for the patients to continue their meditations at home after the completion of the course is a crucial aspect to maintain the progress made during the eight weeks.
This is only one study showing how stress and wellness management therapies can help to improve the quality of life and reduce certain symptoms associated with MS. There are clear connections that show that these types of treatment options are viable and do work for MS patients. If you are considering embarking on one of these treatment paths, consult your doctor.
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