Chinese meditation cuts craving to smoke
U. OREGON (US) — Smokers who signed up for a study on meditation and stress reduction ended up smoking 60 percent less—even though that wasn’t their goal.
Studies of smoking usually recruit people who want quit or reduce their smoking. Researchers approached a new study differently, seeking volunteers interested in reducing stress and improving their performance.
In actuality, the experiment was designed to explore how Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT)—previously shown to improve the self-control pathway related to addiction—would impact smoking behavior.
Among the volunteers were 27 smokers, with a mean age of 21, who smoked on average 10 cigarettes a day. Fifteen of them (11 men) were placed in the experimental group receiving IBMT training for a total of five hours over two weeks.
IBMT, which involves whole body relaxation, mental imagery, and mindfulness training led by a qualified coach, has long been practiced in China. It has been under study for its potential impacts on a variety of stresses and related changes in the brain, including function and structure.
“We found that participants who received IBMT training also experienced a significant decrease in their craving for cigarettes,” says Yi-Yuan Tang of Texas Tech University.
“Because mindfulness meditation promotes personal control and has been shown to positively affect attention and an openness to internal and external experiences, we believe that meditation may be helpful for coping with symptoms of addiction.”
Many of the participants only recognized that they had reduced smoking after an objective test using measured exhaled carbon monoxide showed the reduction.
While previous studies have suggested such meditation may mediate several forms of addiction such as those tied to alcohol, cigarettes, and cocaine, they have not been approached with a randomized controlled design with an active relaxation control.
Before and after the experiments, all participants were tested for carbon monoxide levels. To identify brain mechanisms that may underlie smoking reduction, the researchers also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during rest to understand the brain areas involved.
According to the fMRI results, smokers before entering IBMT had reduced activity in their anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), left lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) and other areas, all of which indicate impaired self-control.
After two weeks of IBMT, smokers had significantly increased activity in their ACC, medial PFC, and inferior frontal gyrus/ventrolateral PFC.
No significant changes were found among smokers in the non-IBMT control group.
In follow-ups after two and four weeks, five of the responding smokers whose smoking had been significantly reduced after IBMT reported that they were continuing to maintain the improvement.
IBMT’s apparent ability to enhance self-control and reduce stress could make the practice useful in reducing smoking and craving “even in those who have no intention to quit smoking” as well as treating individuals with other addictions, researchers say.
IBMT, they write in the study published in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “does not force participants to resist craving or quit smoking; instead it focuses on improving self-control capacity to handle craving and smoking behavior.”
The researchers, however, caution that the participant pool was small and additional investigation is warranted.
“We cannot say how long the effect of reduced smoking will last,” says Michael I. Posner, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon.
“This is an early finding, but an encouraging one. It may be that for the reduction or quitting to have a lasting effect, smokers will need to continue to practice meditation for a longer time period.”
Grants from the National Institutes of Health, China’s National Basic Research Program, and the US Office of Naval Research supported the research.
Source: University of Oregon
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