Blood Pressure

Doctors Gary Kaplan and Vernon Barnes answer your questions on high blood pressure, explaining how Transcendental Meditation could help. 

Q: Is there evidence that the Transcendental Meditation program alone can lower high blood pressure?

Dr. Kaplan: Several studies on both teenagers (American Journal of Hypertension, 2004) and elderly adults (Hypertension, 1999) have demonstrated that high blood pressure is reduced even after a few months of twice-daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. The need for antihypertensive medication is reduced and sometimes eliminated. Anyone on medication who starts practicing the TM technique should follow up regularly with their physician to monitor this positive effect on blood pressure and the need for continued medication. Related Scientific Research

Q: Since the result of high blood pressure over many years is usually hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), leading to complications of stroke and heart attack, is there evidence that the Transcendental Meditation technique can reduce atherosclerosis?

Dr. Kaplan: A groundbreaking study published in the journal Stroke showed that the thickness of the wall of the carotid artery, a warning sign for hardening of the arteries, is reduced with regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. Related Scientific Research

Q: Why is the problem of hypertension such a serious health risk?

Dr. Barnes: In studying the world's population, 26.4% of the adult population are projected to have hypertension by 2025, which is a predicted increase of about 60% to a total of 1.56 billion. Therefore, hypertension is an important public-health challenge worldwide, and prevention, detection, treatment, and control of this condition is of high priority.

It's an enticing concept that a blood pressure-reducing intervention such as the Transcendental Meditation technique, if used widely by the general population, could potentially have an enormous impact on public health. Although long-term studies will be needed to demonstrate the concept, the expectation is that even a small downward shift (i.e. a few mm Hg, or points) in the distribution of blood pressure, if maintained throughout adulthood, could substantially reduce the risk of hypertension and related cardiovascular disease. Related Scientific Research

Q:What are the possible causes of hypertension and heart disease?

Dr. Barnes: Stress has been implicated in the development of hypertension. This has been documented through epidemiological blood pressure studies; naturalistic studies of the relationship among blood pressure, psychology, and everyday life events; and experimental studies of cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses to behavioral stimuli.

The mind and body are very intimately connected. The subjective experience of the Transcendental Meditation technique is one of mental relaxation and peacefulness combined with inner wakefulness. The meditation response is very rapid, and the most clear-cut effects have been seen after 15-30 minutes of practice. The mental relaxation elicits physiological relaxation; that is, when the mind settles down, the body gains deep rest. Related Scientific Research

Q: What are the possible mechanisms responsible for the reduction of blood pressure with Transcendental Meditation practice?

Dr. Barnes:Chronic environmental and psychosocial stress contribute to an increase in acute stress-induced sympathetic nervous system arousal, resulting in imbalance in the nervous system biochemistry. Such changes result in an exaggerated response to stress, as evidenced by constriction of the blood vessels and increased blood pressure levels.

Moderating factors such as stress reduction via practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique impact on the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in reduced blood pressure reactivity to acute stress. Over time, due to decreased cardiovascular reactivity to acute events, there is reduced load upon the heart, resulting in decreased blood pressure levels, thereby helping to prevent early onset of hypertension. Related Scientific Research Related Scientific Research

Q: What has research found about the effect of the Transcendental Meditation technique on the physiology?

Dr. Barnes:According to a review article by Dr. Jevning and his colleagues (Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 1992), the Transcendental Meditation experience appears to elicit a physiological state characterized by a wakeful hypometabolic integrated response. Research has reported a decreased metabolism of the peripheral muscles and red cells, as well as decreased stress hormone secretion. These qualities consistent with deep rest have also been measured using EEG. Additionally, findings of reduced respiratory rates, blood lactate levels and skin conductance levels have been reported.

In other words, the Transcendental Meditation technique allows us to experience a simpler, more settled form of awareness, reducing levels of stress hormones. Effects of chronic stress on hormone levels have been well documented. Acute effects on stress hormone secretion are consistent with decreased activation during meditation. Chronic decrease of this level of activation may also occur. According to scientific research, regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique supports reduction in blood pressure in those who have high blood pressure. Related Scientific Research

Q: How long is it necessary to meditate before you can see benefits on blood pressure?

Dr. Barnes:The benefits can be immediate, but since every person is different it is not possible to predict exactly how soon blood pressure will drop. In most cases, the research has shown that within 1-2 months there is a significant drop in blood pressure if it has been too high. Related Scientific Research

Q: Does the Transcendental Meditation technique work for everyone?

Dr. Barnes:The Transcendental Meditation program works for everyone and generally it works from the first sitting, but it may take some time before the benefits are seen. Stress is often associated with high blood pressure, and high blood pressure is also a risk factor for heart disease. Practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day could reduce blood pressure. If practicing Transcendental Meditation reduces stress and high blood pressure enough, it may be possible to avoid or reduce medications.

Doctors may prescribe the Transcendental Meditation technique to patients as a first line of treatment prior to prescribing medication drugs. They also may prescribe it as an adjunct treatment.Related Scientific Research

Q: Is there a time when the patient can stop with the medication?

Dr. Barnes:That should be decided by the individual patient's doctor according to certain criteria; when, for instance, the patient's blood pressure has reached normal levels on at least three consecutive occasions. Patients should not decide for themselves when to stop medication.Related Scientific Research

Q: How do you see this treatment developing in the future?

Dr. Barnes:There is a great potential for doctors to prescribe the Transcendental Meditation program to their patients, especially for those who are stressed or suffering from stress-related disorders. This technique has been viewed as having the highest potential to change clinical practice from the perspective of treatment. Related Scientific Research

Scientific Research

Blood pressure

Cardiac risk factors

Our medical experts

Gary P. Kaplan, M.D., Ph.D. is a neurologist and associate professor of clinical neurology at New York University School of Medicine. He is also a recipient of the Albert H. Douglas Award from the Medical Society of the State of New York for outstanding achievements as a clinical teacher interested in promoting and improving the medical education of physicians.

Vernon Barnes, Ph.D. is a researcher at the Georgia Prevention Institute of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, which received $1.5 million from the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to study the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on African American teens at risk for high blood pressure.