CHICAGO – It’s been said that one can observe a lot just by watching. Turning such observation inward, new evidence suggests, might lead to blood pressure (BP) reductions that approach what’s possible from an antihypertensive agent.
Systolic BP fell over 6 months by almost 6 mm Hg, on average, in people with elevated BP who participated in an 8-week mindful awareness program as part of a randomized trial that included a usual-care control group.
The program taught established mindfulness-training techniques aimed at modifying behaviors regarding diet, exercise, and other controllable influences on the success of antihypertensive therapy.
Participants in the program, called Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure Reduction (MB-BP), also the name of the single-center study, “showed potentially clinically relevant reductions in systolic blood pressure,” said principal investigator Eric B. Loucks, PhD, Brown University, Providence, R.I.
The phase 2 trial has some limitations, he observed, including on generalizability. For example, it entered about 200 mostly White, college-educated adults from one metropolitan area.
But if these findings are replicated in further studies, “preferably by other research groups, in a larger and broader population, and with longer follow-up,” Dr. Loucks said, the MB-BP intervention could become “an appealing approach to help control blood pressure.”
Dr. Loucks made the comments at a press conference prior to his formal presentation of MB-BP Nov. 6 at American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2022, held in Chicago and virtually.
Mindfulness-based interventions for elevated BP have not been widely studied, “so this is exactly what we need: a well-done trial with a control group to show that it actually works,” Amit Khera, MD, not connected with MB-BP, told this news organization.
The trial is “really important for proof of concept, but it had only 200 people. You need a larger one, and you need longer-term data,” agreed Dr. Khera, who directs the preventive cardiology program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas. “Six months is good, but we want to see if it’s durable.”
Rhian M. Touyz, MBBCh, also not part of MB-BP, agreed that the nearly 6 mm Hg mean systolic BP reduction among program participants is clinically relevant. “I think in the context of global risk and reduction of target organ damage and cardiovascular events, it is significant in terms of events at a population level,” Dr. Touyz, McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, told this news organization.
Many patients on antihypertensive therapy that’s falling short resist the addition of another such agent, she observed, and instead might show further BP reduction from mindfulness training. The intervention probably also “would benefit health in general.” Mindfulness-based approaches could therefore be useful additions to treatment protocols for elevated BP, Dr. Touyz said.
How the training works
The MB-BP program used validated mindfulness-based stress-management techniques, adapted to address elevated BP, that included “personalized feedback and education about hypertension risk factors, mindful awareness training of participants’ relationships with hypertension risk factors, and support for behavior change,” Dr. Loucks and colleagues reported.
Participants were trained in mindfulness skills that included “self-awareness and emotion regulation,” Dr. Loucks said, which they then could apply to their “relationships with the things that we know influence blood pressure, like physical activity, diet, antihypertensive medication adherence, or alcohol consumption.”
One goal is to promote greater “attention control,” he said, “so that there’s some self-awareness that arises in terms of how we feel the next day, after a lot of alcohol consumption, for example, or lack of physical activity.” The process can provide insights that inspire patients to modify behaviors and risk factors that elevate BP, Dr. Loucks explained.