Brain and Body

Transcendental Meditation Could Help Military Personnel Reduce PTSD Symptoms

January 18, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

As part of their medical training, fourth-year military medical students at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., participate in a module on integrated medicine also known as alternative medicine.
Photo credit: Military Health/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

And perhaps even eliminate the need for psychotropic medications.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is common among both active military personnel and war veterans. The statistics show that the rate of PTSD varies based on the service area — for instance, about 11 to 20 percent of veterans who served in the war with Iraq have PTSD while an estimated 30 percent of Vietnam war veterans have the disorder.

Putting your life on the line and witnessing the traumatic events of war is likely to leave behind mental — and in some cases physical — battle wounds.

Could Transcendental Meditation be the answer? A new study seems to think it could help active military personnel reduce the symptoms of PTSD and reduce or even completely eliminate the need for psychotropic medications.

Transcendental meditation requires just 20 minutes of a natural, effortless practice. Unlike other types of meditation, it doesn’t focus on breathing or chanting — instead, “it encourages a restful state of mind beyond thinking,” as stated by the Cleveland Clinic. According to the TM site, most people will be surprised at just how easy it is to learn how Transcendental Meditation.

SEE ALSO: Mindful Meditation Trumps Painkilling Placebo, Study Finds

The symptoms of PTSD can range from distressing flashbacks to sleeping problems and nightmares. Military personnel often suffer from concussions, but it’s a different kind of injury than the one you or I might sustain from a rough game of soccer.

"Concussions heal, but this is a unique concussion because it happened when somebody was trying to kill them," said Dr. John L. Rigg, physiatrist at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center's Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic and the study's senior author.

"It's not like you or I were riding bikes on the weekend and fell down and hit our head. There is significant emotional trauma, hyperarousal of basic instincts of survival. They are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, which is being in an environment where somebody is trying to kill them on a daily basis.”

The study looked at 45 active-duty service members with PTSD or anxiety who were seeking treatment at the Eisenhower medical center in Georgia. The PTSD and anxiety disorders often resulted from multiple deployments over multiple years.

Half of the soldiers voluntarily and regularly practiced Transcendental Meditation in addition to their other therapy, and half did not. At the one month mark, 83.7 percent of the meditators had stabilized, reduced, or eliminated their use of psychotropic drugs, while 10.9 percent increased their medication dosage.

Of the soldiers who did not meditate, 59.4 percent had stabilized, reduced, or stopped taking psychotropic drugs, while 40.5 percent had upped their dosages.

At the six month mark, there was a similar trend — non-meditators experienced about a 20 percent increase in their PTSD and anxiety symptoms compared to those practicing Transcendental Meditation.

SEE ALSO: How Meditation Changes the Brain

"Regular practice of Transcendental Meditation provides a habit of calming down and healing the brain," said lead author Dr. Vernon A. Barnes, physiologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia. Barnes also teaches the patients at Eisenhower the practice of Transcendental Meditation, and recommends the practice be done twice a day for 20 minutes.

The response rates to psychotropic medication for PTSD and anxiety disorders is only about 30 percent, according to the researchers. It can even be harder for active soldiers and veterans to respond to the medications since treatment success can be further complicated by brain injuries, drug abuse, and sleep and mood disorders.

Plus, PTSD medications have a list of negative potential side effects, including depression and memory loss. Transcendental Meditation, on the other hand, has no known adverse side effects.

More research has to be done on the topic, especially considering the relatively small sample size. However, previous studies, including a 1985 study of Vietnam Veterans, revealed that soldiers who practiced Transcendental Meditation instead of taking medication experienced significantly reduced PTSD symptoms — the results seem promising!

Meditation can provide a number of benefits to anyone with or without PTSD, but its potential to reduce the symptoms of PTSD and perhaps even eliminate the need for medication is an exciting possibility.

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