Relax! Evidence-based stress reduction

Many so-called “alternative” health practices are alternative for a very good reason: There is little or no scientific evidence to back them up. Indeed, some very popular treatments have no scientific basis – homeopathy is a good example, where scientific review after scientific review comes to the conclusion that no homeopathic remedy is better than a placebo (for good examples of reviews see here and here).

Therefore, it’s great to come across a health practice that some might see as being out of the mainstream, but which has a very sound basis in the evidence. I was reminded of this when I heard a radio interview with Dr. Jon Kabat Zin. Kabat-Zin’s career has been devoted to the study of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

A nice overview is provided in an except from the radio program (it relaxed me just listening to it). MBSR uses meditation, breathing techniques, and other methods to help promote a state of “mindfulness,” a way of learning to pay attention to what is happening in life that allows a greater sense of connection between mind and body. Mindfulness meditation forms a core of the training, and the evidence of the effectiveness this type of meditation to reduce stress has continued to accumulate over the past decade.

Whereas many alternative practitioners and supplement-makers avoid subjecting their products to rigorous research methods,  Kabat-Zinn and colleagues have embraced scientific testing, including randomized-controlled clinical trials. They have been careful to reproduce the results in multiple studies, showing the effects of mindfulness meditation on such conditions as chronic pain and anxiety, and even to speed recovery from illness. (Always remember to be suspicious when a so-called health practice lacks this kind of evidence.)

Information is available at their program’s web site, which is based at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center (not a bad place to be if you are interested in evidence-based health care approaches). There is interesting information about mindfulness meditation as well as a review of the extensive research base.

So although it’s a busy time of year: Relax! And take a look at one evidence-based approach to help you do so.


  1. Fantastic post! Good to see someone that really knows what
    they are talking about and can produce exellent
    material for us that read it. Certainly looking forward to your next blog post.

  2. Gail says:

    Thanks for this article. It is really good to know that Mindfulness Bases Stress Reduction does have scientific backing. It is a simple way of naturally dissolving a great deal of stress, strain and unhappiness.

    I acknowledge that much of what passes for alternative health care may have little to no scientific validation. I also acknowledge that many of these alternative approaches are little more than expensive glamorized hype and wishful thinking.

    But please keep an open mind and also remember that scientific studies are expensive and time consuming. There may be some very effective alternative health care therapies which simply have not yet found the financial backing to perform formal scientific research.

    • Karl says:

      Dear Gail,

      Thanks for your comment! You make an excellent point: It seems unfair to complain about lack of evidence for alternative health practices, when so little funding has been provided to test them. And we know that some treatments people consider alternative are in fact effective (like acupuncture for osteoarthritis pain). You’re probably aware that the federal government has begun funding studies of complementary medicine through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine ( They present evidence that some stress reduction practices (e.g., massage) to in fact work. So at least some funding is going in this direction!


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