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Can Meditation Make Your Heart Healthier?

December 19, 2013 1:27 p.m.


Dr. Steven Steinhubl is director of the Digital Medicine program at the Scripps Translational Science Institute.

Related Story: Can Meditation Make Your Heart Healthier?


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Many mainstream heart specialists advise their patients to make changes in their lifestyle and diet. This may be the taking up the practice of meditation. Unlike pills or surgical interventions, doctors cannot actually explain to make of how meditation helps to lower blood pressure or regulate heart rate. The recent study aims at finding chemical evidence of what goes on in the body during meditation. It's a collaboration between Scripps Institute and the Chopra Center. Welcome to the program. What do we all ready know about the connection between it meditation and heart health?

DR. STEVEN STEINHUBL: We know that meditation is associated with the decrease in blood pressure and heart rate. We know that in general, people who have higher stress levels are more likely to have heart attacks and not do as well even after heart attack or after coronary procedures, but how that works and how they affect each other, we don't understand. People who are more stressed or more likely to take the medications are less likely to exercise, we don't think that, but there is no direct current of what really happens when meditate and when we relax.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Physical health in general, is meditation a growing thing in general?

DR. STEVEN STEINHUBL: Is growing but very slowly, from the time I trained it went to the medical school in the late 80s, there is but a large assistance on medical procedures and the medications of only the last several years have people began to think there is more to this than just medications and better surgeries, and we have recognized for decades and even longer believe the century that what we have described as a placebo effect, that the patient believing that the treatment or cure will be helpful improves the likelihood of that helping, and that is a mind-body connection that we have never understood, we've just know that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That this study began this idea from Doctor Deepak Chopra. Tell us about that.

DR. STEVEN STEINHUBL: Doctor Deepak Chopra is enthusiastic about demonstrating the science and meditation. A recent study that has not been published yet is looking at our genetic gives impression changes in a week of meditation. We're doing a lot of things that show that meditation programs actually changes are genetic age and presumably we will live longer with that calming effect, and we recognize that there is a way of expertise and mobile technology to monitor individuals in a non-obtrusive way, and he thought with that combination with the need to identify the health benefits of that extend meditation while doing it in a way that will not bother the meditator was a unique opportunity so he pushed us to do that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Of this study uses wireless technology so that people do not have to do sincerely be strapped up and wired the way they used to come when scientists wanted to monitor how a certain date was affecting the body. How were these meditators, how did this proceed? Did they have monitors or anything?

DR. STEVEN STEINHUBL: They are an incredible collaborative group. They had several monitors that do not look different from our headsets, the relatively comfortable and a patch on your chest, called vital connect batch and continuously transmitted their heart rate and respiratory rate and body temperature, and it's a subtle measure of stretched called for great reliability. This is exciting, that device that allows for continuous blood pressure monitoring without a blood pressure cuff, it measures the color change your figure with each heartbeat, and just recently received approval from the FDA in intensive care units, we're monitoring individuals with equivalent technologies often neurosurgical intensive care unit, but there's nothing there to disturb them. They're wearing a hat and a patch on the chest and a ring on their finger, and most of them and not all, but 90% felt like it did not interfere with their meditation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Who took part in the search?

DR. STEVEN STEINHUBL: These individuals self-selected themselves be interested in meditation and signed up for the chopper center, they have three times a year to have a weeklong invitation retreat, and we specifically out of these 300 individuals looks for forty volunteers and twenty that we wanted to be now this meditators, and twenty experienced mentor meditators who had at least at least half an hour with a day routine practice for at least three months.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have a sound clip from one of people to part of this study.


NEW SPEAKER: Part of why I'm here to do is to increase my meditation. My experience it has been enormous in helping me to heal myself and both emotionally and physically from stressful situations.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Doctor Steven Stein bold and we're talking about it collaborative study between Scripps Institute and the Chopra Center for well-being. We're trying to figure out what is going inside of their bodies when they meditate. To follow up on something that we just heard, even the novice meditators, one might assume that meditation might be good for them, does that influence the study at all?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think if you do not believe that meditation will help I've believe it will be hard to concentrate for half an hour to not think about other things, I think that it affects the study and approve up with abilities of a large population, but we really hope you will find a measures where someone might be able to have a site on the watch where it says we have feedback as to when you're getting treatment to state, or individuals who just relax and watch TV or not thinking or crocheting or to some where the mind is occupied, but not worried about the stress of the day. That may have the same benefit.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How long through the participates meditations did you take these readings? Continuously?

DR. STEVEN STEINHUBL: Two different sessions at a weeklong retreat. We monitored for an hour of the first day and an hour of last day. This way we were trying to hopefully identify a change in the novice meditators and the assumptions on their first meditation session that they were not going to be very good, and for trial stand point that is our control of people relaxing for an hour, and we have to look at data to see if that's how it turns out. One of the nice things about the EEG is that it has the sign of brain activity giving a good signal when people are meditating or just relaxing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why is Scripps interested in this research?

DR. STEVEN STEINHUBL: The whole Scripps health care system recognizes a broader need for changing the way healthcare is practice, and we know that technology is an incredible breakthrough that we as a healthcare system has yet to take advantage of. From the research standpoint we notice important to develop that expertise is which we have at the translational science Institute and the healthcare system recognizes that giving patients the power to take care of themselves is involved that expertise, it's the technology that and their connection to Doctor Chopra, but the idea and one of the important parts of that of individualized medicine is the mental aspect of how we feel about the heart attack we just had, and our stresses the lives not related to our health, how that affects our health, this is a way to understand that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I know a well-known cardiologist at Scripps, he is a proponent of how wireless technology will revolutionize medicine.

DR. STEVEN STEINHUBL: Absolutely and it should change, and the reason I am here is is because of that vision.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When will the results of the study be published? When did this meditation happen and where are you in the process?

DR. STEVEN STEINHUBL: It happened in November and every individual we were monitoring we had about 1 million hits of data for every minute we monitored, have forty individuals under two hours, so we're still trying to find the data us that when we look at everybody the same uniform way where all three monitoring devices are lined up to those second, and so we are done without really hard work and we have looked at one patient did maybe 50% of the detail that we like to come but looking at only one of forty is really about 80% of the work, getting the results together and putting in a manuscript form and we're hoping by the end of January to have everything ready for publication.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is the goal to be able to say when someone meditates this is what happens inside the body?

DR. STEVEN STEINHUBL: Yes, to show the variation that and we're not having forty people sit down and meditate that everyone will have the same response, that is one of the things that we want to recognize, what is the difference is, maybe it's just like we can all run, but we can all not all be good runners in training help some, but it may be possible some of us are just wired differently and our ability to meditate comes easier for some. The idea is to identify the differences in the forty subjects individually expanded out to a larger population.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you meditate?

DR. STEVEN STEINHUBL: I do, but not close to the consistency of people there, but there's a time in my life for for five years ago I had a research sabbatical where I had much more interested in meditation I did it daily and did feel better and I know many doctors don't follow my own advice, I should be doing it every day but I find that I'm too busy to it in one of the things that surprised me with the to the study, and I talk to people the health work healthcare system, it's amazing how many people said you know I went through this physical problem and I started meditating and now I can't make it through a day without doing it, like these people who never say that they do it, a lot of people use meditation to get them through challenging everyday stresses. I hope it will make meditation much more mainstream and people will recognize this is an important art of medicine.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with the doctor Stephen Steinhubl, thank you so much.