Research into mindfulness, a major part of the billion-dollar meditation industry, has been complicated by the fact that the term can mean anything from informal practices, such as conscious awareness while eating, to structured meditation programs involving designating set times to sit in a specific posture attending to your breathing, for instance, making an understanding of the efficacy hard to capture. More than 20 observational studies or case reports have documented instances of adverse effects, such as meditation-induced psychosis, mania, anxiety, and panic.

A commentary in a psychiatry journal entitled “Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?” notes that even the books on mindfulness written by scientists are “bursting with magical promises of peace, happiness and well-being.” Contrary to the popular perception, however, the evidence for even the most well-founded benefits is not entirely conclusive. This is not an issue unique to meditation. There is a “replication crisis” across the entire field of experimental psychology, where many of the landmark findings in the social sciences published in even the most prestigious journals don’t appear to be reproducible.

The majority of mindfulness-based trials apparently never see the light of day, raising the specter of a similar publication bias, and many of the ones that do make it into the scientific record are underwhelming. The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality published a systematic review of the available data and concluded that mindfulness meditation worked best for improving anxiety, depression, and pain, but even then, the quality of evidence was only “moderate.”

Mindfulness-based modalities like meditation can help with stress management and self-control, and can decrease impulsive, binge, and emotional eating, all of which might facilitate weight management. Like any other diet or lifestyle intervention, however, mindfulness only works if you do it.

For substantiation of any statements of fact from the peer-reviewed medical literature, please see the associated videos below.

Image Credit: Shahariar Lenin / Pixabay. This image has been modified.

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