I've Got MS, and the Only Prescription Is More Meditation

Mindfulness meditation can improve fatigue, depression, and other measure of quality of life in patietns with multiple sclerosis.

According to the results of a study, published earlier this week in Neurology, the fatigue, depression, and some other challenges often faced by people with multiple sclerosis can be reduced by learning mindfulness meditation.

Not only were these challenges reduced, but people who took an 8-week class in mindfulness medication training saw their overall quality of life improved, compared to study participants who only received standard medical care, with positive effects continuing for at least 6 months.

"People with MS must often confront special challenges of life related to profession, financial security, recreational and social activities, and personal relationships, not to mention the direct fears associated with current or future physical symptoms and disability,” said study author Paul Grossman, PhD, University of Basel Hospital, Switzerland. “Fatigue, depression and anxiety are also common consequences of having MS. Unfortunately, the treatments that help slow the disease process may have little direct effect on people's overall quality of life, fatigue or depression. So any complementary treatments that can quickly and directly improve quality of life are very welcome."

Of 150 participants with mild to moderate MS who were randomly assigned to the training or usual care, those who received the meditation training learned about mental and physical exercises that target the development of nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, aka mindfulness. The two and one-half hour weekly training classes were accompanied by one all-day retreat and 40 minutes of “homework” per day.

"MS is an unpredictable disease," Grossman said. "People can go for months feeling great and then have an attack that may reduce their ability to work or take care of their family. Mindfulness training can help those with MS better to cope with these changes. Increased mindfulness in daily life may also contribute to a more realistic sense of control, as well as a greater appreciation of positive experiences that continue be part of life."

Further, acceptance of the mindfulness program was high, with a 92% attendance rate, patients giving the training high levels of satisfaction, and just 5% dropping out of the course before it ended.

Nearly all measures of fatigue, depression, and quality of life improved in those who attending the mindfulness program, with depressive symptoms reduced 30% compared to those with no training; and the group of participants who showed evidence of serious depression, anxiety or fatigue at the start of the study (roughly 65%) decreasing by one-third by the end of training and at six months.