NEW YORK, June 30 (Reuters Life!) - A therapy that combines
mindfulness meditation and gentle yoga may help soothe symptoms
of irritable bowel syndrome, according to a U.S. study.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel
Hill, found that, of the 75 women with the digestive disorder
involved in the study, those assigned to "mindfulness training"
-- a type of meditation -- saw a bigger improvement in their
symptoms over three months than women who were assigned to a
The study, published in the American Journal of
Gastroenterology, suggests that the mindfulness technique should
be an option for treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),
"This randomized, controlled trial demonstrated that
mindfulness training has a substantial therapeutic effect on
bowel symptom severity, improves health-related quality of life,
and reduces distress," wrote lead researcher Susan Gaylord.
People with IBS have repeated bouts of abdominal cramps,
bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Typical treatment included
diet changes, as well as anti-diarrheal medication and, for
constipation, laxatives or fiber supplements.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but anxiety and
less-than-ideal coping strategies, such as avoiding going out
because of symptoms, are thought to make IBS worse for many
As a result, psychological counseling is sometimes used,
with the best-studied form being cognitive-behavioral therapy,
which tries to change the unhealthy thinking patterns and
behaviors that contribute to people's health problems.
In the study, 75 women with IBS were randomly assigned to
either undergo the mindfulness training or attend an IBS support
group once a week for eight weeks.
The training included lessons on meditation, gentle yoga
postures and "body scanning," in which people focus their
attention on one body area at a time to detect muscle tension
and other sensations.
Gaylord's team found that three months after the therapy
ended, women who'd undergone mindfulness training were fairing
better than the support group.
On average, their scores on a standard 500-point IBS symptom
questionnaire fell by more than 100 points, with a 50-point drop
considered a "clinically significant" improvement.
By contrast, women in the support group averaged a 30-point
"I think people with IBS should learn mindfulness skills,"
said Delia Chiaramonte, director of education for the University
of Maryland's Center for Integrative Medicine in Baltimore,
noting that it was "100 percent safe" and could offer a way to
manage IBS symptoms on their own, long-term.
"Part of the problem with IBS is the attention people give
to the physical discomfort, and what the mind then does with
Chiaramonte, who was not involved in the study, said it was
"well-designed." Testing mindfulness training against a support
group, for example, helps control for the fact that people
involved in any form of therapy may simply expect to get better
-- and, therefore, do.
"And still, the mindfulness group did better. So it's not
just contact with another human being, or not just that they
expected to get better," Chiaramonte added.
But larger trials need to be done, including some that
recruit men. In addition, mindfulness can be learned in many
different ways -- and the study only looked at the specific
technique of mindfulness-based stress reduction.
"This study doesn't tell us if learning mindfulness in other
ways would work," she added.
(Reporting by Amy Norton at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine