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OBJECTIVES: Adequate relief (AR) of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms (IBS-AR) has been used as a primary end point in many randomized controlled trials of IBS and is considered by the Rome III committee to be an acceptable primary end point. However, controversy exists on whether baseline severity confounds the effect of the treatment outcome. The aim (1) is to compare a subjective report of IBS-AR with global assessment of improvement (IBS-GAI), change in IBS symptom severity scale (IBS-SSS), and IBS quality of life (IBS-QOL); (2) to explore whether initial IBS symptom severity influences the ability of these outcome measures to detect differences post treatment; and (3) to determine whether psychological symptoms influence the sensitivity of these measures, in a randomized controlled treatment trial. METHODS: A total of 289 adult IBS patients were recruited to a treatment trial. Baseline IBS-SSS scores were used to classify IBS severity as mild (<175), moderate (175–300), or severe (>300). Questionnaires were completed at baseline and after 3 weeks of treatment with sham acupuncture or wait-list control. RESULTS: IBS baseline severity (IBS-SSS) significantly affected the proportion of patients who reported IBS-AR at 3 weeks (mild, 70%; moderate, 49.7%; severe, 38.8%) (P<0.05). However, once the patients who reported IBS-AR at baseline (28.0%) were excluded from the analysis, baseline severity no longer affected the proportion of patients reporting IBS-AR. Baseline severity did not have a significant effect on patients reporting moderate or significant improvement on the IBS-GAI (mild, 30%; moderate, 25.3%; severe, 18.8%) (P=NS). Psychological symptoms had no significant correlations with responders after adjusting for baseline severity. CONCLUSIONS: These data suggest that IBS-AR as an end point is inversely related to baseline symptom severity. However, if patients who report AR at screening were excluded from study participation, baseline symptom severity was no longer confounded with a report of AR at the study end point.
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Background: Chronic pelvic pain in adolescents accounts for 10% of outpatient gynecology visits, and 70% of adolescent patients whose pelvic pain is unresponsive to initial therapy have endometriosis. To date, there has been no published research investigating the use of acupuncture for adolescents with chronic pelvic pain and/or endometriosis. Methods: This paper presents two case reports describing the impact of a course of acupuncture on adolescent girls with endometriosis-related chronic pelvic pain of more than 1 year. Results: Both patients, undergoing between 9 and 15 treatments over a 7- to 12-week period, experienced modest improvement in pain as measured by oral self-reports of pain on a scale from 1 to 10, as well as selfor family-reported improvement in headaches, nausea and fatigue. No adverse effects were reported. Conclusions: These case reports provide preliminary evidence that acupuncture may be an acceptable and safe adjunct treatment therapy for some adolescents with endometriosis-related pelvic pain refractory to standard antiendometriosis therapies. These observations suggest that a prospective, randomized controlled trial of the safety and efficacy of acupuncture for this population may be warranted.
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Enhancing body awareness has been described as a key element or a mechanism of action for therapeutic approaches often categorized as mind-body approaches, such as yoga, TaiChi, Body-Oriented Psychotherapy, Body Awareness Therapy, mindfulness based therapies/meditation, Feldenkrais, Alexander Method, Breath Therapy and others with reported benefits for a variety of health conditions. To better understand the conceptualization of body awareness in mind-body therapies, leading practitioners and teaching faculty of these approaches were invited as well as their patients to participate in focus groups. The qualitative analysis of these focus groups with representative practitioners of body awareness practices, and the perspectives of their patients, elucidated the common ground of their understanding of body awareness. For them body awareness is an inseparable aspect of embodied self awareness realized in action and interaction with the environment and world. It is the awareness of embodiment as an innate tendency of our organism for emergent self-organization and wholeness. The process that patients undergo in these therapies was seen as a progression towards greater unity between body and self, very similar to the conceptualization of embodiment as dialectic of body and self described by some philosophers as being experienced in distinct developmental levels.
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Objective To investigate whether placebo effects can experimentally be separated into the response to three components—assessment and observation, a therapeutic ritual (placebo treatment), and a supportive patient-practitioner relationship—and then progressively combined to produce incremental clinical improvement in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. To assess the relative magnitude of these components. Design A six week single blind three arm randomised controlled trial. Setting Academic medical centre. Participants 262 adults (76% women), mean (SD) age 39 (14), diagnosed by Rome II criteria for and with a score of ≥150 on the symptom severity scale. Interventions For three weeks either waiting list (observation), placebo acupuncture alone (“limited”), or placebo acupuncture with a patient-practitioner relationship augmented by warmth, attention, and confidence (“augmented”). At three weeks, half of the patients were randomly assigned to continue in their originally assigned group for an additional three weeks. Main outcome measures Global improvement scale (range 1-7), adequate relief of symptoms, symptom severity score, and quality of life. Results At three weeks, scores on the global improvement scale were 3.8 (SD 1.0) v 4.3 (SD 1.4) v 5.0 (SD 1.3) for waiting list versus “limited” versus “augmented,” respectively (P<0.001 for trend). The proportion of patients reporting adequate relief showed a similar pattern: 28% on waiting list, 44% in limited group, and 62% in augmented group (P<0.001 for trend). The same trend in response existed in symptom severity score (30 (63) v 42 (67) v 82 (89), P<0.001) and quality of life (3.6 (8.1) v 4.1 (9.4) v 9.3 (14.0), P<0.001). All pairwise comparisons between augmented and limited patient-practitioner relationship were significant: global improvement scale (P<0.001), adequate relief of symptoms (P<0.001), symptom severity score (P=0.007), quality of life (P=0.01).Results were similar at six week follow-up. Conclusion Factors contributing to the placebo effect can be progressively combined in a manner resembling a graded dose escalation of component parts. Non-specific effects can produce statistically and clinically significant outcomes and the patient-practitioner relationship is the most robust component. Trial registration Clinical Trials NCT00065403.
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Touch Healing (TH) therapies, defined here as treatments whose primary route of administration is tactile contact and/or active guiding of somatic attention, are ubiquitous across cultures. Despite increasing integration of TH into mainstream medicine through therapies such as Reiki, Therapeutic Touch,TM and somatically focused meditation practices such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, relatively little is known about potential underlying mechanisms. Here, we present a neuroscientific explanation for the prevalence and effectiveness of TH therapies for relieving chronic pain. We begin with a cross-cultural review of several different types of TH treatments and identify common characteristics, including: light tactile contact and/or a somatosensory attention directed toward the body, a behaviorally relevant context, a relaxed context and repeated treatment sessions. These cardinal features are also key elements of established mechanisms of neural plasticity in somatosensory cortical maps, suggesting that sensory reorganization is a mechanism for the healing observed. Consideration of the potential health benefits of meditation practice specifically suggests that these practices provide training in the regulation of neural and perceptual dynamics that provide ongoing resistance to the development of maladaptive somatic representations. This model provides several direct predictions for investigating ways that TH may induce cortical plasticity and dynamics in pain remediation.
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Cued spatial attention modulates functionally relevant alpha rhythms in visual cortices in humans. Here, we present evidence for analogous phenomena in primary somatosensory neocortex (SI). Using magnetoencephalography, we measured changes in the SI mu rhythm containing mu-alpha (7–14 Hz) and mu-beta (15–29 Hz) components. We found that cued attention impacted mu-alpha in the somatopically localized hand representation in SI, showing decreased power after attention was cued to the hand and increased power after attention was cued to the foot, with significant differences observed 500–1100 ms after cue. Mu-beta showed differences in a time window 800–850 ms after cue. The visual cue also drove an early evoked response beginning ∼70 ms after cue with distinct peaks modulated with cued attention. Distinct components of the tactile stimulus-evoked response were also modulated with cued attention. Analysis of a second dataset showed that, on a trial-by-trial basis, tactile detection probabilities decreased linearly with prestimulus mu-alpha and mu-beta power. These results support the growing consensus that cue-induced alpha modulation is a functionally relevant sensory gating mechanism deployed by attention. Further, while cued attention had a weaker effect on the allocation of mu-beta, oscillations in this band also predicted tactile detection.
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Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an 8-week training that is designed to teach participants mindful awareness of the present moment. In randomized clinical trials (RCTs), MBSR has demonstrated efficacy in various conditions including reducing chronic pain-related distress and improving quality of life in healthy individuals. There have, however, been no qualitative studies investigating participants' descriptions of changes experienced over multiple time points during the course of the programme. This qualitative study of an MBSR cohort (N = 8 healthy individuals) in a larger RCT examined participants' daily diary descriptions of their home-practice experiences. The study used a two-part method, combining grounded theory with a close-ended coding approach. The grounded theory analysis revealed that during the trial, all participants, to varying degrees, described moments of distress related to practice; at the end of the course, all participants who completed the training demonstrated greater detail and clarity in their descriptions, improved affect, and the emergence of an observing self. The closed-ended coding schema, carried out to shed light on the development of an observing self, revealed that the emergence of an observing self was not related to the valence of participants' experiential descriptions: even participants whose diaries contained predominantly negative characterizations of their experience throughout the trial were able, by the end of the trial, to demonstrate an observing, witnessing attitude towards their own distress. Progress in MBSR may rely less on the valence of participants' experiences and more on the way participants describe and relate to their own inner experience. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Key Practitioner Message: This article • Analyses the ways in which participants in a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) clinical trial describe their experiences with mindfulness practice. • Carries out qualitative analysis of the ways in which participants' descriptions of home-based meditation practice contained in their practice diaries change over the course of an 8-week MBSR trial. • Demonstrates that the participants who successfully completed the 8-week course show a common developmental trajectory, as each participant used less reactive, judgemental language to describe their home meditative practice-based experiences by the end of the trial, even when, in the case of some participants, that experience was perceived as negative or distressing. • Suggests that progress in MBSR may rely less on the valence of participants' experience and more on the way participants describe and relate to their own inner experience.
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Background: The diagnostic framework and clinical reasoning process in Chinese medicine emphasizes the contextual and qualitative nature of a patient's illness. Chinese medicine assessment data may help interpret clinical outcomes. Objectives: As part of a study aimed at assessing the validity and improving the inter-rater reliability of the Chinese diagnostic process, a structured assessment instrument was developed for use in clinical trials of acupuncture and other Chinese medical therapies. Study design: To foster collaboration and maximize resources and information, an interdisciplinary advisory team was assembled. Under the guidance of two group process facilitators, and in order to establish whether the assessment instrument was consistent with accepted Chinese medicine diagnostic categories (face validity) and included the full range of each concept's meaning (content validity), a panel of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) expert clinicians was convened and their responses were organized using the Delphi process, an iterative, anonymous, idea-generating and consensus-building process. An aggregate rating measure was obtained by taking the mean of mean ratings for each question across all 10 experts. Results: Over three rounds, the overall rating increased from 7.4 (SD = 1.3) in Round 1 to 9.1 (SD = 0.5) in Round 3. The level of agreement among clinicians was measured by a decrease in SD. Conclusions: The final instrument TEAMSI-TCM (Traditional East Asian Medicine Structured Interview, TCM version) uses the pattern differentiation model characteristic of TCM. This modular, dynamic version was specifically designed to assess women, with a focus on gynecologic conditions; with modifications it can be adapted for use with other populations and conditions. TEAMSI-TCM is a prescriptive instrument that guides clinicians to use the proper indicators, combine them in a systematic manner, and generate conclusions. In conjunction with treatment manualization and training it may serve to increase inter-rater reliability and inter-trial reproducibility in Chinese medicine clinical trials. Testing of the validity and reliability of this instrument currently is underway.
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How do we, as humans, take in the feelings and thoughts of other people? Theory-of-Mind (ToM) and Embodied Simulation (ES) approaches hypothesize divergent neural and behavioral mechanisms underlying intersubjectivity. ToM investigators assert that humans take in the belief states and intentions of another person by holding "a theory of mind" that cognitively posits the other person's mental contents, with some experiments identifying the right temporo-parietal junction as a specific ToM brain region. ES theorists hypothesize that humans perceive the other's state of mind by simulating his/her actions, emotions, and goals in the "mirror neuron system" in the brain. A historical review suggests these understandings rely on opposing, dualist models of cognition and perception. William James's intervention on this earlier debate is informative in anticipating recent findings in low-level sensory neuroscience. Of specific interest are studies showing that intersubjectivity and low-level sensory attentional filtering are both processed in the same cortical area (the temporo-parietal junction) suggesting that the ability to entertain other minds may be related to the ability to perceive salient stimuli during attention-demanding tasks.
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Background Behavioral paradigms applied during human recordings in electro- and magneto- encephalography (EEG and MEG) typically require 1–2 hours of data collection. Over this time scale, the natural fluctuations in brain state or rapid learning effects could impact measured signals, but are seldom analyzed. Methods and Findings We investigated within-session dynamics of neocortical alpha (7–14 Hz) rhythms and their allocation with cued-attention using MEG recorded from primary somatosensory neocortex (SI) in humans. We found that there were significant and systematic changes across a single ∼1 hour recording session in several dimensions, including increased alpha power, increased differentiation in attention-induced alpha allocation, increased distinction in immediate time-locked post-cue evoked responses in SI to different visual cues, and enhanced power in the immediate cue-locked alpha band frequency response. Further, comparison of two commonly used baseline methods showed that conclusions on the evolution of alpha dynamics across a session were dependent on the normalization method used. Conclusions These findings are important not only as they relate to studies of oscillations in SI, they also provide a robust example of the type of dynamic changes in brain measures within a single session that are overlooked in most human brain imaging/recording studies.
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A successful clinical trial is dependent on recruitment. Between December 2003 and February 2006, our team successfully enrolled 289 participants in a large, single-center, randomized placebo-controlled trial (RCT) studying the impact of the patient-doctor relationship and acupuncture on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients. This paper reports on the effectiveness of standard recruitment methods such as physician referral, newspaper advertisements, fliers, audio and video media (radio and television commercials) as well as relatively new methods not previously extensively reported on such as internet ads, ads in mass-transit vehicles and movie theater previews. We also report the fraction of cost each method consumed and fraction of recruitment each method generated. Our cost per call from potential participants varied from $3–$103 and cost per enrollment participant varied from $12–$584. Using a novel metric, the efficacy index, we found that physician referrals and flyers were the most effective recruitment method in our trial. Despite some methods being more efficient than others, all methods contributed to the successful recruitment. The iterative use of the efficacy index during a recruitment campaign may be helpful to calibrate and focus on the most effective recruitment methods.
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During selective attention, ∼7–14 Hz alpha rhythms are modulated in early sensory cortices, suggesting a mechanistic role for these dynamics in perception. Here, we investigated whether alpha modulation can be enhanced by “mindfulness” meditation (MM), a program training practitioners in sustained attention to body and breath-related sensations. We hypothesized that participants in the MM group would exhibit enhanced alpha power modulation in a localized representation in the primary somatosensory neocortex in response to a cue, as compared to participants in the control group. Healthy subjects were randomized to 8-weeks of MM training or a control group. Using magnetoencephalographic (MEG) recording of the SI finger representation, we found meditators demonstrated enhanced alpha power modulation in response to a cue. This finding is the first to show enhanced local alpha modulation following sustained attentional training, and implicates this form of enhanced dynamic neural regulation in the behavioral effects of meditative practice.
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Neurophenomenological studies seek to utilize first-person self-report to elucidate cognitive processes related to physiological data. Grounded theory offers an approach to the qualitative analysis of self-report, whereby theoretical constructs are derived from empirical data. Here we used grounded theory methodology (GTM) to assess how the first-person experience of meditation relates to neural activity in a core region of the default mode network—the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). We analyzed first-person data consisting of meditators' accounts of their subjective experience during runs of a real time fMRI neurofeedback study of meditation, and third-person data consisting of corresponding feedback graphs of PCC activity during the same runs. We found that for meditators, the subjective experiences of “undistracted awareness” such as “concentration” and “observing sensory experience,” and “effortless doing” such as “observing sensory experience,” “not efforting,” and “contentment,” correspond with PCC deactivation. Further, the subjective experiences of “distracted awareness” such as “distraction” and “interpreting,” and “controlling” such as “efforting” and “discontentment,” correspond with PCC activation. Moreover, we derived several novel hypotheses about how specific qualities of cognitive processes during meditation relate to PCC activity, such as the difference between meditation and “trying to meditate.” These findings offer novel insights into the relationship between meditation and mind wandering or self-related thinking and neural activity in the default mode network, driven by first-person reports.
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Background: This paper describes the experiences of 8 licensed acupuncturists in a placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial (RCT). This information is important to the design and conduct of high-quality trials. Methods: We conducted a RCT (N = 135) with a 2-week placebo run-in followed by 4 weeks of twice-weekly treatments comparing genuine to sham acupuncture (using the Streitberger placebo needle) in the treatment of arm pain caused by repetitive use. At the end of this study, we conducted written structured interviews with 8 participating acupuncturists. The acupuncturists were not aware of the study's results at the time of these interviews. The questions focused on their experiences in the study, adherence to study protocols, their thoughts about the technical and ethical issues involved in using a sham needling device, and their expectations of trial outcomes. The questions were motivated by expressions of concerns the acupuncturists raised in feedback groups during the course of the study, and our desire to improve further trials. Results: The acupuncturists differed widely in their comfort levels with the research methods used, their adherence to the study protocol, and their expectations of trial outcomes. Conclusions: We conclude that careful monitoring of acupuncturists, including observation of treatments and frequent meetings to support them throughout the trial, is necessary to maintain a high degree of quality control.
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Attention to internal bodily sensations is a core feature of mindfulness meditation. Previous studies have not detected differences in interoceptive accuracy between meditators and nonmeditators on heartbeat detection and perception tasks. We compared differences in respiratory interoceptive accuracy between meditators and nonmeditators in the ability to detect and discriminate respiratory resistive loads and sustain accurate perception of respiratory tidal volume during nondistracted and distracted conditions. Groups did not differ in overall performance on the detection and discrimination tasks; however, meditators were more accurate in discriminating the resistive load with the lowest ceiling effect. Meditators were also more accurate during the nondistracted tracking task at a lag time of 1 s following the breath. Results provide initial support for the notion that meditators have greater respiratory interoceptive accuracy compared to nonmeditators.
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Few complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) institutions require their students to undergo substantive training in research literacy and conduct, and well-developed programs to train CAM institution faculty in research are virtually non-existent. As part of a National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) initiative to increase research capacity at CAM institutions, the New England School of Acupuncture (NESA), in collaboration with the Harvard Medical School (HMS) Osher Institute, was awarded a Developmental Center for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (DCRC) grant. This article discusses a number of initiatives that we designed and implemented to train NESA students, faculty members, and alumni in the foundations of clinical research and to stimulate interest in both participating in research and receiving additional research training. Specific initiatives included a 30-hour faculty "Foundations of Research" course; a year-long course entitled, "How to Write a Publishable Case Report"; institution of a monthly research seminar series; revision of an already required student research course; and the addition of 2 new student-mentored independent research electives. We discuss successes and challenges encountered in developing and administering these initiatives and the overall impact they have had on research culture and productivity at NESA.
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Little is known about placebo effects with scientific precision. Poor methodology has confounded our understanding of the magnitude and even the existence of the placebo effect. Investigating placebo effects presents special research challenges including: the design of appropriate controls for studying placebo effects including separating such effects from natural history and regression to the mean, the need for large sample sizes to capture expected small effects, and the need to understand such potential effects from a patient's perspective. This article summarizes the methodology of an ongoing NIH-funded randomized controlled trial aimed at investigating whether the placebo effect in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) exists and whether the magnitude of such an effect can be manipulated to vary in a manner analogous to “dose dependence.” The trial also uses an innovative combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.
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Study Objective To assess feasibility, and collect preliminary data for a subsequent randomized, sham-controlled trial to evaluate Japanese-style acupuncture for reducing chronic pelvic pain and improving health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in adolescents with endometriosis. Design Randomized, sham-controlled trial. Settings Tertiary-referral hospital. Participants Eighteen young women (13–22y) with laparoscopically-diagnosed endometriosis-related chronic pelvic pain. Interventions A Japanese style of acupuncture and a sham acupuncture control. Sixteen treatments were administered over 8 weeks. Main Outcome Measures Protocol feasibility, recruitment numbers, pain not associated with menses or intercourse, and multiple HRQOL instruments including Endometriosis Health Profile, Pediatric Quality of Life, Perceived Stress, and Activity Limitation. Results Fourteen participants (out of 18 randomized) completed the study per protocol. Participants in the active acupuncture group (n = 9) experienced an average 4.8 (SD = 2.4) point reduction on a 11 point scale (62%) in pain after 4 weeks, which differed significantly from the control group's (n = 5) average reduction of 1.4 (SD = 2.1) points (P = 0.004). Reduction in pain in the active group persisted through a 6-month assessment; however, after 4 weeks, differences between the active and control group decreased and were not statistically significant. All HRQOL measures indicated greater improvements in the active acupuncture group compared to the control; however, the majority of these trends were not statistically significant. No serious adverse events were reported. Conclusion Preliminary estimates indicate that Japanese-style acupuncture may be an effective, safe, and well-tolerated adjunct therapy for endometriosis-related pelvic pain in adolescents. A more definitive trial evaluating Japanese-style acupuncture in this population is both feasible and warranted.
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Patients in the placebo arms of randomized controlled trials (RCT) often experience positive changes from baseline. While multiple theories concerning such “placebo effects” exist, peculiarly, none has been informed by actual interviews of patients undergoing placebo treatment. Here, we report on a qualitative study (n = 27) embedded within a RCT (n = 262) in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Besides identical placebo acupuncture treatment in the RCT, the qualitative study patients also received an additional set of interviews at the beginning, midpoint, and end of the trial. Interviews of the 12 qualitative subjects who underwent and completed placebo treatment were transcribed. We found that patients (1) were persistently concerned with whether they were receiving placebo or genuine treatment; (2) almost never endorsed “expectation” of improvement but spoke of “hope” instead and frequently reported despair; (3) almost all reported improvement ranging from dramatic psychosocial changes to unambiguous, progressive symptom improvement to tentative impressions of benefit; and (4) often worried whether their improvement was due to normal fluctuations or placebo effects. The placebo treatment was a problematic perturbation that provided an opportunity to reconstruct the experiences of the fluctuations of their illness and how it disrupted their everyday life. Immersion in this RCT was a co-mingling of enactment, embodiment and interpretation involving ritual performance and evocative symbols, shifts in bodily sensations, symptoms, mood, daily life behaviors, and social interactions, all accompanied by self-scrutiny and re-appraisal. The placebo effect involved a spectrum of factors and any single theory of placebo – e.g. expectancy, hope, conditioning, anxiety reduction, report bias, symbolic work, narrative and embodiment – provides an inadequate model to explain its salubrious benefits.
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Patients in the placebo arms of randomized controlled trials (RCT) often experience positive changes from baseline. While multiple theories concerning such “placebo effects” exist, peculiarly, none has been informed by actual interviews of patients undergoing placebo treatment. Here, we report on a qualitative study (n = 27) embedded within a RCT (n = 262) in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Besides identical placebo acupuncture treatment in the RCT, the qualitative study patients also received an additional set of interviews at the beginning, midpoint, and end of the trial. Interviews of the 12 qualitative subjects who underwent and completed placebo treatment were transcribed. We found that patients (1) were persistently concerned with whether they were receiving placebo or genuine treatment; (2) almost never endorsed “expectation” of improvement but spoke of “hope” instead and frequently reported despair; (3) almost all reported improvement ranging from dramatic psychosocial changes to unambiguous, progressive symptom improvement to tentative impressions of benefit; and (4) often worried whether their improvement was due to normal fluctuations or placebo effects. The placebo treatment was a problematic perturbation that provided an opportunity to reconstruct the experiences of the fluctuations of their illness and how it disrupted their everyday life. Immersion in this RCT was a co-mingling of enactment, embodiment and interpretation involving ritual performance and evocative symbols, shifts in bodily sensations, symptoms, mood, daily life behaviors, and social interactions, all accompanied by self-scrutiny and re-appraisal. The placebo effect involved a spectrum of factors and any single theory of placebo—e.g. expectancy, hope, conditioning, anxiety reduction, report bias, symbolic work, narrative and embodiment—provides an inadequate model to explain its salubrious benefits.
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Previous research indicates that long-term meditation practice is associated with altered resting electroencephalogram patterns, suggestive of long lasting changes in brain activity. We hypothesized that meditation practice might also be associated with changes in the brain’s physical structure. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to assess cortical thickness in 20 participants with extensive Insight meditation experience, which involves focused attention to internal experiences. Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula. Between-group differences in prefrontal cortical thickness were most pronounced in older participants, suggesting that meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning. Finally, the thickness of two regions correlated with meditation experience. These data provide the first structural evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice.
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Those with high baseline stress levels are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's Disease (AD). While meditation may reduce stress and alter the hippocampus and default mode network (DMN), little is known about its impact in these populations. Our objective was to conduct a “proof of concept” trial to determine whether Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) would improve DMN connectivity and reduce hippocampal atrophy among adults with MCI. 14 adults with MCI were randomized to MBSR vs. usual care and underwent resting state fMRI at baseline and follow-up. Seed based functional connectivity was applied using posterior cingulate cortex as seed. Brain morphometry analyses were performed using FreeSurfer. The results showed that after the intervention, MBSR participants had increased functional connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex and bilateral medial prefrontal cortex and left hippocampus compared to controls. In addition, MBSR participants had trends of less bilateral hippocampal volume atrophy than control participants. These preliminary results indicate that in adults with MCI, MBSR may have a positive impact on the regions of the brain most related to MCI and AD. Further research with larger sample sizes and longer-follow-up are needed to further investigate the results from this pilot study.
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