Meditation and the Course of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

In a study published in the journal Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine (1998, 9(3):171-90) researchers discovered that patients who used mind/body medicine practices such as meditation tripled their chances of improvement over a 12 month period, compared to patients who did not use such practices.  

CFS is a neuro-immune disorder characterized by debilitating fatigue, sleep disturbance, and impaired concentration. There is no medical cure, and the recovery process is usually long, slow and unpredictable.  

The study was conducted by researchers from the Flowing River Institute in San Francisco and Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. Sixty patients were randomly assigned to training and control groups. Those in the training group were taught mindfulness meditation and a Chinese form of mind/body healing called chi kung. To gauge improvement the researchers used the SF36, a standard health status survey used widely in medical outcome research.  

KEY FINDINGS  
The researchers discovered they could predict with 90% accuracy which patients would report improvement in their health over 12 months and which would not. Surprisingly, the patient's duration of illness did not matter. Also, being in the training group did not by itself predict improvement since not all patients followed the recommendations.  

For a minority of patients -- the 15 who were the least severely ill -- improvement was likely regardless of any other factors (87% reported improvement). For the remaining 45 patients, however, whether they improved was accurately predicted by how often they used a mind/body medicine practice. Those who used such a practice 3 or more days per week were 2.7 times as likely to report improvement at 12 months than were those who did not (65% versus 24%).  

Having good social ties seemed to bolster the benefits of regular practice. Patients who practiced 3 or more days per week and also had stronger social involvement in their lives were 3.6 times as likely to report improvement at 12 months (87% versus 24%).  

SIMILAR FINDINGS WITH OTHER DISEASES  
Research in mind/body medicine has shown powerful impact in other diseases as well. David Spiegel, M.D. at Stanford Medical School found that women with metastatic breast cancer doubled their survival time with the help of social support and mind/body medicine. Studies at UCLA Medical School have found improved survival rates in malignant melanoma (a form of skin cancer), as well as reduced symptoms in AIDS patients. Other studies have found similar benefits for heart disease and hypertension.  

The results are summarized in the model below. The degree of impairment, as reflected in the person's current level of role functioning, predicts the extent to which meditation practice is likely to alter the course of their health:  

Graphic display of summary model 

CONCLUSIONS  
According to William Collinge, Ph.D., the project's principal investigator, "This study shows that patients have it within their power to influence the course of their illness. This is all the more important in a disease for which there is no medical cure."  

The researchers concluded that patients with CFS -- and particularly those who are most impaired in their roles at home or work -- should be strongly encouraged to adopt a daily mind/body medicine practice of their choice, and involve themselves in social support.  

The study was sponsored by Flowing River Institute, an private non-profit corporation that promotes and supports the development of integrative and cross-cultural approaches to contemporary issues of health and healing through research, training and health education.  

REFERENCE 
Collinge W, Yarnold P, Raskin E. Use of mind/body self-healing practice predicts positive health transition in chronic fatigue syndrome: a controlled study. Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine, 1998, 9(3):171-90.  

RESEARCHERS  
William Collinge, Ph.D., M.P.H. is Director of Research for the Flowing River Institute.  

Ellen Raskin is a certified integral health educator and Executive Director, Flowing River Institute.  

Paul Yarnold, Ph.D. is  Research Professor of Medicine, General Internal Medicine, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago IL; and Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Illinois, Chicago.  

FUNDING  
This study was funded in part by a grant from the Stupski Family Fund to the Flowing River Institute, San Francisco.