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Mindfulness meditation reduces pain through non-opioid system

Written by | 30 Mar 2016 | All Medical News

by Bruce Sylvester: Researchers report that mindfulness meditation can significantly reduce pain but that it does not employ the endogenous opioid system to do so. The findings appeared on March 15 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina said, “Our finding was surprising and could be important for the millions of chronic pain sufferers who are seeking a fast-acting, non-opiate-based therapy to alleviate their pain.”

For the randomized, double-blinded study, investigators enrolled 78 healthy, pain-free volunteers and divided them into four cohorts for the four-day (20 minutes per day) trial.

The researchers induced pain using a thermal probe to heat a small area of the subjects’ skin to 49 degrees Centigrade (120.2 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature most people find very painful. Subjects used a sliding scale to rate pain.

Treatment for the groups were meditation plus naloxone, non-meditation control plus naloxone, meditation plus saline placebo or non-meditation control plus saline placebo.

The non-meditation control groups reported increases in pain regardless of whether they received naloxone or placebo-saline injection.

Pain was reduced by 21 percent in the meditation group that received the placebo-saline injection.

Pain was reduced by 24 percent in the meditation group that received the naloxone.

“Our team has demonstrated across four separate studies that meditation, after a short training period, can reduce experimentally induced pain,” Zeidan said. “And now this study shows that meditation doesn’t work through the body’s opioid system. This study adds to the growing body of evidence that something unique is happening with how meditation reduces pain. These findings are especially significant to those who have built up a tolerance to opiate-based drugs and are looking for a non-addictive way to reduce their pain.”

Zeidan added that the next step for his team  to determine whether mindfulness meditation can affect a range of chronic pain conditions. “At the very least, we believe that meditation could be used in conjunction with other traditional drug therapies to enhance pain relief without it producing the addictive side effects and other consequences that may arise from opiate drugs,” he said.

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