"Over 35 million US adults use mind/body approaches for better health."Herbert Benson, MD
M/BMI Founding President
Starting in 2001, the Mind/Body Medical Institute (M/BMI) began a multi-year, multi-million dollar research program sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The purpose of the program is to investigate the scientific basis of the relaxation response (RR). This investigation is a multi-disciplinary effort including physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, physiologists, neurobiologists, statisticians and M/BMI clinicians. The project is a collaborative effort between Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Tufts New England Medical Center.

Three major project areas of investigation are underway:

Project 1. Identifying the molecular mechanisms of the relaxation response (RR)

In an on-going laboratory-based experiment being led by Dr.Jeffery A. Dusek, he and the M/BMI research team have been examining the protective role of the RR in counteracting the harmful effects of acute stress. Approximately 45 healthy, young adults are participating in this study and receiving an eight-week RR training intervention or an eight-week educational training program. One goal of the study is to objectively determine the depth at which subjects elicit the RR. In so doing, we will be able to accurately interpret molecular (Nitric Oxide) biochemical (ACTH, Cortisol and Epinephrine) and physiological changes that occur with RR elicitation. Results from this study will ultimately increase the understanding of basic mechanisms underlying RR elicitation.

Project 2. Use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess brain activity during the RR

This cutting edge technology is being used to identify specific brain regions that become active (or less active) as individuals elicit the RR. Led by Sara Lazar PhD at Massachusetts General Hospital, approximately 50 experienced individuals (from Kundalini and Vipassana yoga traditions) and age-matched control subjects have participated in this study. In addition, fMRI scans are being done on some subjects who participated in the laboratory-based experiment described in Project 1 (above). In so doing, it will be possible to compare the brain activity of experienced RR practitioners to that of novices (with only eight weeks of RR-elicitation training).

Project 3. The role of RR training in reducing blood pressure

It is known that:

About 43 million American adults are diagnosed with hypertension or currently take anti-hypertensive medications.
Hypertension results in 35 million visits annually and is one of the most common reasons for visits to primary care physicians.
Only 31% of hypertensive adults have blood pressure that is properly controlled.

In collaboration with Randall Zusman MD of Massachusetts General Hospital, this randomized controlled trial's first goal is to examine if eight weeks of RR training reduces blood pressure in approximately 120 elderly hypertensive subjects. The second goal is to see if eight additional weeks of RR training allows individuals to safely reduce their daily dose of anti-hypertension medications.

Receipt of this CDC award demonstrates the M/BMI’s solid base of governmental support for the pursuit of research into the scientific basis of the RR and its clinical applications. We anticipate that data collection and statistical analysis will be completed for these projects in 2006 and will result in a number of presentations at international scientific conferences as well as publications in medical journals. By providing greater understanding of the biological mechanisms of the RR, the M/BMI maintains its place as a leader in mind/body medicine.

For a complete list of M/BMI scientific publications, please refer to the curriculum vitae of Herbert Benson, MD.

More Information
For more information, contact Ann Wohlhueter at 617.991.0102 X238 or awohlhueter@mbmi.org
Herbert Benson, MD President,
Mind Body Medical Institute and
Mind Body Medical Institute Associate Professor of Medicine,
Harvard Medical School.