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The Effect of Meditation on Health: a Metasynthesis of Randomized Controlled Trials

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Abstract

Objectives

Meta-analyses have identified benefits of meditation for many specific health outcomes, including depression, diabetes, and smoking. However, the meditation literature lacks a comprehensive synthesis of meta-analyses on meditation–health effects. This study used metasynthesis (i.e., second-order meta-analysis) to derive a comprehensive estimate of the effect of meditation on health.

Methods

Twenty-eight meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials, which collectively provided 404 meta-analytic effects from over 31,000 participants, met criteria for inclusion. Information on the type of health outcome, meditation, and sample as well as the methodological quality and average intervention length was extracted from each meta-analysis. An unweighted model was used to aggregate data.

Results

A medium-sized effect of meditation on health was obtained after aggregating across meta-analyses (d = 0.50, 95% CI [0.42, 0.58]). The effect of meditation was stronger when examining yoga than mindfulness or focused attention, was similar for mental and physical health, and was stronger in younger samples, higher quality studies, and studies with longer interventions.

Conclusions

This metasynthesis provides among the most compelling evidence to date that meditation benefits health. Nonetheless, current estimates of meditation–health effects may be inflated as a result of publication bias, low quality studies, and use of inactive control conditions.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

SR designed and executed the metasynthesis, analyzed data, and wrote the paper. EZ assisted with the metasynthesis, data analysis, and writing of the paper. JES collaborated on the metasynthesis, data analysis, and writing of the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ethan Zell.

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Conflict of Interest

Sabrina Rose has been teaching yoga since the summer of 2018. Ethan Zell and Jason Strickhouser declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Ethics Statement

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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Rose, S., Zell, E. & Strickhouser, J.E. The Effect of Meditation on Health: a Metasynthesis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Mindfulness 11, 507–516 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01277-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01277-6

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