Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Improves Asthma Control and Reduces Airway Inflammation

University of Wisconsin researchers find that people with asthma benefit from intervention that includes meditation and yoga and sustained focus on the breathing, thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.

Studies have shown that individuals with asthma as well as mood or anxiety disorders and psychological distress tend to have poorer control of their asthma, more severe symptoms, and greater utilization of healthcare services than asthma patients without these conditions. Additionally, chronic stress aggravates asthma symptoms and promotes type 2 inflammatory responses, such as those seen in severe asthma.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a nonpharmacological approach for treating chronic conditions, including depression, chronic pain, immune disorders, and hypertension. Developed originally to relieve stress, MBSR is an 8-week training program that incorporates meditation and yoga and involves a sustained focus on the breathing, thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Through MBSR, individuals are encouraged to bring neutral awareness to all experiences without embracing or avoiding any thoughts or feelings. The aim is to intervene between psychological distress and its effects on physical symptoms.

In a Brain, Behavior, and Immunity – Health study published in September 2022, Estelle T. Higgins and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison sought to investigate the effects of MBSR training on asthma control and airway inflammation in adults with asthma.

Higgins and colleagues randomized 73 adult participants with asthma to either an 8-week MBSR training or a wait-list control group who would receive the training after the study’s completion. Asthma control was assessed using the Asthma Control Questionnaire 6-item version (ACQ6), and the level of airway inflammation was determined by measuring exhaled nitric oxide, a biomarker of airway inflammation.

The authors found that, compared with the control group, a higher percentage of participants in the MBSR group had significantly improved asthma control based on ACQ6 scores and reduced airway inflammation, as evidenced by decreased levels of exhaled nitric oxide. These improvements lasted four months after the intervention was over.

Higgins and colleagues concluded that MBSR training effectively reduced psychological distress effects on asthma control and airway inflammation. The authors suggest that MBSR training can serve as an adjunct therapy in asthma care. They wrote, “the patterns we observed here advance MBSR as an effective and accessible behavioral option to augment and potentially reduce the need for pharmacological treatment approaches. Furthermore, as incorporation of the concept of treatable traits into asthma management grows, MBSR may prove to be an effective intervention to reduce the contribution of psychological factors to morbidity, and improve overall disease control.”