People with high blood pressure may find relief from Transcendental Meditation, a controversial alternative to medicine promoted by the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa, where some of the co-authors sell their techniques.

Their meta-analysis was 107 published studies on stress reduction programs and high blood pressure and published in the December issue of Current Hypertension Reports.

The meta-analysis reviewed randomized, controlled trials of all stress reduction and relaxation methods in participants with high blood pressure that have been published in journals and concluded that the transcendental meditation technique produced a statistically significant reduction in high blood pressure that is not found with other forms of relaxation, meditation, biofeedback or stress management.  

Blood pressure changes for the transcendental meditation technique included average reductions of 5.0 points on systolic blood pressure and 2.8 on diastolic blood pressure, which were statistically significant, according to the review. The other stress reduction programs did not show significant changes in blood pressure.

Blood pressure changes associated with transcendental meditation practice were consistent with other controlled studies showing reductions in cardiovascular risk factors, improved markers of heart disease, and reduced mortality rates among participants in the Transcendental Meditation program.

The new meta-analysis was conducted by the Maharishi University of Management (who provided the funding) and the University of Kentucky, who took the money.

According to University of Kentucky Professor Dr. James Anderson, co-author of the new meta-analysis, the findings rebut a July 2007 report from the NIH-National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine which found that most of the studies, including the papers included in the new report, were too low quality to be considered valid, and that there was no evidence that any specific stress reduction effectively lowers blood pressure. 

The new meta-analysis instead identified low quality studies as high quality meditation studies published through 2006 and rigorously analyzed their effects. The authors note that the studies on transcendental meditation were conducted at five independent universities and medical institutions, and the majority of them were funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, which says more about the quality of the grant process than it does the legitimacy of what the company behind the paper sells.

“The magnitude of the changes in blood pressure with the Transcendental Meditation technique are at least as great as the changes found with major changes in diet or exercise that doctors often recommend,” Anderson said. “Yet the Transcendental Meditation technique does not require changes in lifestyle. Thus many patients with mild hypertension or prehypertension may be able to avoid the need to take blood pressure medications--all of which have adverse side effects. Individuals with more severe forms of hypertension may be able to reduce the number or dosages of their BP medications under the guidance of their doctor.”

Anderson added that long-term changes in blood pressure of this magnitude are associated with at least a 15 percent reduction in rates of heart attack and stroke. “This is important to everyone because cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. and worldwide,” Anderson said.

The study’s statistician, Maxwell Rainforth, also of the Maharishi University of Management that sells Transcendental Meditation classes, said, “The twenty-three separate studies included in the final analysis met well-known criteria for high scientific quality. That is, these studies used repeated blood pressure measurements and participants were randomized to either a stress reduction technique or placebo-type control for at least eight weeks. The data we used are all published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.”

According to co-author Dr. Robert Schneider, the Maharishi director of the Institute of Natural Medicine and Prevention, their meta-analysis indicates that the Transcendental Meditation his employer sells is distinctively effective compared to other techniques in lowering high blood pressure.

“For those 100 million Americans with elevated blood pressure, here is a scientifically documented, yet simple and easy way to lower blood pressure without drugs and harmful side effects. In addition, related studies show an integrated set of positive ‘side benefits,’ such as reduced stress, reduced heart disease levels and longer lifespan with this technique to restore balance in the cardiovascular system, mind and body,” Schneider claimed in the Maharishi press release.