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Loving kindness meditation may offset affective disorder

18 September, 2012 by Johanna Hök

Downward spiraling emotions typical of affective disorders may be lastingly offset by recourse to ”loving kindness”-meditation. IC´s reporter Johanna Hök took part in the seventh international CAM research conference in Portland, Oregon.

For three days in the middle of May, about a thousand scientists from all over the world gathered in Portland, Oregon, USA to discuss the latest research with relevance for complementary, alternative and integrative medicine.

Participants could update themselves with reports of the latest findings on how thoughts influence our cognitive abilities, nutrition and health, acupuncture and the role of clinical context for patient recovery, among many other things.

Meditation mitigates against negativity
Professor Barbara Fredrickson, Department of Psychology at University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill presented research results on the connection between our thoughts and our wellbeing.

Positive emotions – even though they may be transient – can have lasting consequences. Such feelings may be viewed as a collection of personal resources, which in turn may trigger further positive sensations and lead to improved wellbeing in an ascending spiral.

Contemplative exercises such as so called ”loving kindness meditation” has the power to initiate positive changes, which may augment our mental and physical health. They also counteract descending spirals of negatively charged emotions, such as characteristically mark affective disorders like depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. However, it should be noted that these exercises are not intended to replace other treatment methods.

Acupuncture analgesia analyzed
Professor Claudia Witt from Charité University in Berlin presented preliminary results from the largest acupuncture study so far. The world´s most respected acupuncture researchers have joined forces and reanalyzed data from many of the earlier acupuncture trials.

The study, which will be published in the near future, found that acupuncture against pain, i.a. lumbar pain, is superior to placebo (sham) acupuncture. More information on the study design can be found here.

Need new narratives
Wayne Jonas, a physician and previous manager of NCCAM feels there is a need for new types of narratives about health and illness/disease. Currently, for example, the stories told tend to diminish the placebo phenomenon to something which interferes with research.

Rather, we need tales that do the placebo phenomenon justice as the asset it is in clinical practice, Dr Jonas stated. He is of the opinion that the placebo concept has acquired an unjustly negative reputation and so prefers to use the term”the meaning response” instead. By this, he means more general physiological or psychological effects, caused by the (symbolic) meanings of diseases and treatments. Placebo and nocebo effects are often given as examples of the symbolic effects of treatments.

Powerful research expansion
Professor David Eisenberg, the Osher Centre for Integrative Medicine at Harvard University, and a pioneer in the field, noted the powerful expansion of CAM research in recent years.

In 1998, his research group published an article in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showing that 40 procent of Americans used CAM at that time, while at the same time, there was hardly any research in the area at all. Two decades later, in 2010, NIH invested over USD 520 million in CAM research.

The conference in Portland, Oregon was organized by a consortium of 50 American universities and institutions of higher learning, working with medical research and education in the areqas of CAM and integrative medicine. NIH and NCCAM were among the main sponsors.

Johanna Hök


Garland EL,Fredrickson B, Kring AM, Johnson DP,  Meyer PS, Penn DL. Upward spirals of positive emotions counter downward spirals of negativity: Insights from the broaden-and-build theory and affective neuroscience on the treatment of emotion dysfunction and deficits in psychopathology.  Clinical Psychology Review. Volume 30, Issue 7, November 2010, Pages 849–864.

Moerman DE, Jonas WB. Deconstructing the placebo effect and finding the meaning response. Ann Intern Med. 2002 Mar 19;136(6):471-6.

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