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Meditation May Have Unique and Synergistic Pain-Relieving Properties, Investigators Say

Zeidan F, Adler-Neal AL, Wells RE, Stagnaro E, May LM, Eisenach JC, McHaffie JG, Coghill RC. Mindfulness-Meditation-Based Pain Relief Is Not Mediated by Endogenous Opioids. J Neurosci. 2016 Mar 16;36(11):3391-7. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4328-15.2016.

Previous studies have shown that meditation can be a helpful, non-pharmacologic approach to relieving pain, but it has not been clear why or how meditation works. In this study, scientists specifically looked at how meditation causes pain relief, and they found that meditation appears to work on a different pathway than opioid pain relievers. The study included healthy adults who were exposed to a painful heat stimuli. Participants who meditated for pain relief experienced lower pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings compared to those who did not meditate. Interestingly, the individuals who meditated during administration of naloxone (a drug that blocks the activity of opioids) also had significantly greater reductions in pain intensity and unpleasantness versus individuals who instead received administration of saline as a control. The findings of this study, which was partially funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, has interesting implications for pain relief; namely, that adding meditation to standard medical treatment of pain may be particularly effective, enhancing overall pain relief synergistically due to a lack of “cross-tolerance” with opiates.