On the list of ways in which meditation appears to benefit the brain, depression treatment may be the latest to gain scientific backing. A new review study, out yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, finds that mindfulness meditation may rival antidepressants in easing the symptoms of depression. The review is noteworthy for this reason: Its authors combed thousands of earlier studies on meditation, arriving at a small number of randomized clinical trials (the gold standard in science) for use in the analysis. Mindfulness meditation may not cure all, the research found, but when it comes to the treatment of depression, anxiety, and pain, the practice may be just as effective as medication.
In the current study, the effect size for meditation on depression was found to be moderate, at 0.3.
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But the results are more impressive when you keep in mind that the average effect size of antidepressant medication, the go-to method in the country, is also 0.3. So when it comes to treating depression, which has a notoriously low treatment success rate, the effect size for meditation in the current study is actually pretty impressive.
What’s the evidence for other problems?
There was no evidence for an effect of meditation on other measures, like attention, positive mood, substance use, eating habits, sleep and weight. Mantra meditation didn’t seem to carry the same effect as mindfulness meditation, but it may be in part because there were too few studies in the former to draw real conclusions.