Study: Meditation, mindfulness helps veterans cope with PTSD

49 percent of veterans reported a dramatic reduction in post-traumatic stress symptoms.

 FILE: "The Indian Prime Minister leads international yoga day. Picture: CNN"

Some veterans may experience a sharper decline in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy than with other forms of group treatment, a study suggests.

Researchers gave one group of veterans with PTSD eight weekly 2.5-hour sessions focused on mindfulness and meditation, as well as a day-long retreat, and compared their progress to their peers who received nine weekly 1.5-hour group sessions designed to address specific problems stemming from PTSD in daily life.

With mindfulness-based therapy, 49 percent of veterans reported a dramatic reduction in PTSD symptoms, compared with just 28 percent of their peers who didn't receive this type of treatment.

Roughly one in four veterans returning from deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from PTSD, Polusny and colleagues report in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

Mindfulness-based group sessions help veterans learn meditation techniques they can use at home to cultivate awareness of the present moment during ordinary daily activities such as driving or eating, she said.

Breathing exercises and practices such as yoga are also used to help encourage body awareness and focus on the present.

The other treatment used in the study, known as present-centered group therapy, fosters concentration on the impact of trauma and PTSD symptoms on daily life, with an emphasis on problem-solving and coping mechanisms, she said.

Veterans reported a greater improvement in quality of life after two months with the mindfulness-based therapy than the alternative approach.

And while the veterans in the mindfulness group were more likely to report that their PTSD symptoms had improved, those self-reported improvements didn't mean they were any likelier to be cured of their PTSD.

In fact, after two months, the percentages of patients who no longer had a PTSD diagnosis were similar, at 53 percent with mindfulness training and 47 percent without it.

One limitation of the study is that the mindfulness training involved more hours of treatment than the problem-solving therapy, though the researchers say this reflects the way these treatments are typically provided in real life.

The mindfulness approach probably works by reducing hyper-vigilance associated with PTSD, said Dr. Charles Hoge, a senior scientist at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland.

"However, this is only one component of effective treatment," Hoge, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email.