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Mindfulness Monday: Health Issues You Didn’t Even Know Mindfulness Could Fix

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by Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD

Much has been written about mindfulness’ impact on stress levels and I have written (in the Body Clock Diet) about how mindfulness can help with disordered eating. And while it’s true that those are two very positive things mindfulness can do, that’s not all it may be able to achieve.

A slew of studies have assessed mindfulness’ impact on back pain, IBS, glucose control and even colds. Let’s take a look at the research and potential benefits:

Glucose Control

A study conducted by Brown University School of Public Health, and published in the American Journal of Health Behavior, found those who did best on a mindfulness test had a better chance of having normal plasma glucose levels than those who did worse. (400 subjects participated in all.) That being said, there wasn’t a statistically significant connection between mindfulness and type 2 diabetes in this study, though two out of the five studies that have been done on glucose and mindfulness have found a positive relationship between mindfulness and normal levels. The upshot is that more tests need to be done, but this is encouraging research. “These findings,” the authors write, “need to be replicated by prospective studies to establish causality and to evaluate potential implications for mindfulness-based interventions to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.”

IBS

In 2011, a study found a link between mindfulness meditation and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). The study, done by the University of North Carolina, discovered that people with IBS could better manage their physical and psychological symptoms by doing mindfulness meditation than by attending support group therapy. After an 8-week mindfulness program, IBS was reduced by over 25% versus 6.2% in the therapy group. The reduction in symptoms even continued three months later! “Our study indicates that mindfulness meditation is a practical, widely applicable and inexpensive method to enable irritable bowel syndrome patients to improve their clinical outcomes and gain associated improvement in well-being,” Olafur S. Palsson, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist said.

Back pain

The University of Pittsburgh did a study on 282 seniors who had back pain for three years. They were separated into two groups. The seniors who focused on mindfulness made greater strides in their pain after eight weeks than the group who did not. Since back pain can not always be treated with medication in some people, this is a worthwhile natural alternative, the study researchers said. “The mind-body program teaches patients how to be more aware of their thoughts, emotions, sensations and behaviors,” main author Natalia Morone explained. “As the patient learns to do this, they can become more aware of behaviors or even thoughts or feelings about pain that make it worse, or make it difficult for them to do activities.”

Colds

Almost nothing’s worse than a nasty winter cold that just won’t go away. Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has discovered that mindfulness (in addition to exercise) might be as good as a flu vaccine, in terms of improving the immune system’s resistance to colds. “The results are remarkable,” main study author Bruce Barrett, MD, PhD, said. “We saw a 40 to 50 percent reduction in respiratory infections. When we give flu vaccines, which is one of the most well-proven and beneficial interventions that we have, it only protects at a level of 50 to 60 percent and only for a few strains of the [flu] virus.” Also, the types of colds the mindfulness group had were not as bad and didn’t hang around for as long.

Although this research is promising, there’s no guarantee mindfulness can cure or help your particular illness. Still, considering mindfulness costs nothing to do, it’s certainly a worthwhile addition to make to your lifestyle.