Practicing mindfulness in conjunction with lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and salt reduction, can help treat and prevent high blood pressure, according to a new hypothesis published in Medical Hypotheses.

More than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure, which is a major cause of premature morbidity and mortality. Mindfulness, which is a practice growing in popularity, aims to reduce stress through mind and body exercises. Examples include paced breathing aimed at lowering heart rates.

Researchers hypothesized that mindfulness practiced through paced breathing can stimulate the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system. This system reduces stress chemicals in the brain and increases vascular relation, which may lead to lower blood pressure, according to the study. The investigators wrote that sustaining reductions in blood pressure of 4 to 5 millimeters of mercury can decrease the risk of stroke by 42% and the risk of heart attack by 17%. 

Investigators are currently designing a pilot randomized trial that may lead to further randomized trials of intermediate markers, which include inhibition of progression of carotid intimal thickening. Eventually, a large-scale trial would determine the efficacy of mindfulness in reducing stroke and heart attack. 

"Now more than ever, Americans and people all over the world are under increased stress, which may adversely affect their health and well-being…We know that mindfulness decreases stress and I am cautiously optimistic that mindfulness with paced breathing will produce sustained lowering of blood pressure," said study co-author Barbara Schmidt, author of "The Practice," and adjunct instructor at Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt College of Medicine. 

Cardiovascular disease accounts for 40% of the total mortality in the United States every year and more than 17 million deaths worldwide. Cardiovascular disease is projected to become the leading cause of death worldwide in the coming years. 

Reference:
Mindfulness with paced breathing and lowering blood pressure [News Release] Boca Rotan, FL. September 9, 2020; https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/fau-mwp090820.php. Accessed September 10, 2020.