Doctors may be more accepting of certain complementary and alternative medicine therapies, such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing, than they have been in the past, a new study suggests.
The results show about 3 percent of Americans use such mind-body therapies because of a referral from a physician.
Evidence is growing to support the use of mind-body therapies as a clinical treatment, said study researcher Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, of Harvard Medical School. “Still, we didn’t expect to see provider referral rates that were quite so high.”
In 2007, 38 percent of Americans used complementary and alternative medicine (referred to by researchers as CAM). Mind-body therapies, which include things like yoga and tai chi, are a type of CAM. Use of CAM in the United States has increased since 2002, with mind-body therapies comprising 75 percent of the rise, the researchers say.
But little is known about whether individuals use mind-body therapies as a result of a conventional doctor’s recommendation.
Nerurkar and colleagues collected information from more than 23,000 U.S. households from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. They found more than 6.3 million Americans used mind-and-body therapies due to provider referral. That compares with 34.8 million who were self-referred. Those who were referred to mind-body therapies by their doctors tended to be sicker and used the health care system more than people who self-referred.
“What we learned suggests that providers are referring their patients for mind-body therapies as a last resort once conventional therapeutic options have failed,” Nerurkar said. “It makes us wonder whether referring patients for these therapies earlier in the treatment process could lead to less use of the health care system, and possibly, better outcomes for these patients,” she said.
The study was published today (May 9) in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
What do you do if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer but you’re scared of the treatment? Studies show meditation can be powerful medicine when it comes to overcoming fears.
Sore tonsils led 44-year-old Danilo Ramirez’s doctor to suspect he had more than just a sore throat.
“He did surgery and a week later, ‘Mr. Ramirez you got lymphoma,’” said Ramirez.
Stage Two Lymphoma. Those words sent the Burbank father of two into a tailspin. But the specialized radiation treatment he faced scared him even more. Danilo is claustrophobic. Even though his life depended on it, he refused to wear the required mask.
“Mentally it was really hard on me,” said Ramirez. “There were nights I couldn’t sleep at all knowing I had to face that.”
“So he almost was willing to refuse treatment for a potentially curable cancer,” said Dr. Rex Hoffman. “Without treatment he would die.”
Sedatives didn’t help, so his doctor recommended visual guided imagery.
Raking in a zen garden is one form of relaxation, but visual guided imagery is a specialized form of meditation that teaches a patient to focus on their breath and different muscle groups.
“Even learning for a short period of time could teach you how to reduce stress, reduce anxiety in different situations,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Harden.
After a few weeks, Ramirez gained the skills to undergo treatment.
“The body didn’t control me,” said Ramirez. “My mind was strong enough to deal with it, and say you know what? I’m going to be all right.”
“It can be really helpful for people in terms of increasing immune functioning, helping to deal with daily stress levels,” said Dr. Harden.
“Now he knows to take deep breaths,” said Dr. Hoffman. “And practice stress relaxation in other parts of his life, that really helped him to be a much happier person.”
“I’m using all this to an advantage to fight cancer,” said Ramirez.
Danilo finished his radiation treatments in December. Tests show he is cancer free. He said the calming effects of meditation continue to help him in all aspects of his life, including dealing with Los Angeles traffic.
Meditation and yoga are regular programs offered to patients at the Disney Family Cancer Center.
Dealing with the experience of cancer can sometimes result in heightened anxiety, stress and fear.
Now patients and survivors have turned to the practice of meditation to help them cope and adjust.
The cancer patients at Gilda’s Club Westchester sit in stillness, focusing their minds and their attention on one thing. In this case, they are focusing all their attention on their breath.
“I’m trying to go for a more natural way of becoming more peaceful, more relaxed, less agitated, less worried,” said cancer survivor Regina Kirsch.
“Especially with cancer , I think it’s great to be able to clear your mind, center yourself and kind of clear those worries away,” said another cancer survivor Monica Ventorino.
Psychologist Merril Harmin has been teaching meditation for 30 years. “We’ve noticed that an easy way to let go of a thought is to shift from the thinking to the breathing,” said Harmin. “We can open up our mind and our body works better. The glands work better. The nerves work better,” said Harmin.
Research shows that people who meditate heal faster and get sick less quickly and less often. A recent study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that 30 minutes a day of meditation changed areas of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The study was published in the current issue of Psychiatry: Neuroimaging Research. ”
I just found that I had to do meditation just to stay calm because I was just so anxious all the time. But I still have thoughts of cancer. It will be two years in April that I was diagnosed, so I’m on the mends. I definitely feel I’m on the mends,” said cancer survivor Chris Smith.
“It’s a form of stationary relaxation and I really enjoyed it. You’re in piece with your mind,” said Eva Culhane.
“It really helped me to relax and to sleep better. I had been taking sleeping pills so I was very happy that after 6 weeks of meditation I managed to get off my sleeping pills,” Culhane added.
Off pills and into a calmer plane with the help of a 2,000 year old therapy.