Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 647,000 Americans die of heart disease each year. For perspective, that’s one death every 37 seconds or 1 in every 4 deaths. As current and emerging research continues to investigate stress as a risk factor for heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends stress management for general well-being.
A recent analysis published in The American Journal of Cardiology observed a relationship between practicing meditation and lower cholesterol. Researchers examined data from 61,267 subjects that had participated in 2012 and 2017 National Health Interview Surveys (NHIS), of which 5,851 (9.6%) practiced some form of meditation. The analyses were adjusted for variables among subjects with preexisting conditions such as those with high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and coronary artery disease, as well as other factors.
“After adjusting for age, sex, BMI, race, marital status, cigarette smoking, sleeping duration, and depression, meditation was independently associated with a lower prevalence of hypercholesterolemia [high cholesterol] compared with those who did not meditate,” the authors wrote.
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The new research follows a scientific statement made by the American Heart Association (AHA) in 2017 on the effects that low-cost, accessible interventions like meditation can have on heart health. The AHA acknowledged that myriad studies have reported the general benefits of meditation, as well as the effects of meditation for the prevention of cardiovascular disease—including how the practice affects the physiological stress response.
While numerous studies have shown promising results, the AHA noted that many were conducted on small samples and that further research linking meditation to a lowered risk of heart disease was still needed. In response to this, the new research, which was based on a large national database sample, concluded that meditation could possibly reduce the risk for heart disease—but found that other factors such as alcohol consumption, physical activity, and exercise may have an influence as well. Chayakrit Krittanawong, MD, a lead author of the study and clinician-scientist at Baylor College of Medicine, says that further research is still needed in order to say with certainty that meditation benefits heart health. “With an adequately designed clinical trial, we can control all confounders (biases),” he said. “For example, we do not know that people who meditate might exercise more or eat more fruit and vegetables than those who did not meditate.”