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Blood pressure news
No evidence for relaxation therapy for high blood pressure
- A new study has combined the results of 25 small studies into the effectiveness of relaxation techniques in lowering blood pressure
- It found that relaxation therapies may lower blood pressure, but not as well as medications
- Further analysis showed that the reduction in blood pressure was not much more than a ‘fake’ therapy would produce due to the placebo effect.
An article published in the latest issue Journal of Human Hypertension has concluded that there is not enough evidence to show that relaxation therapies significantly reduce blood pressure. Even if such therapies are effective, the authors argue, the likely reduction in blood pressure will probably be much less than that achieved by taking medications.
The article did not publish new research, but was a “meta-analysis” of previous research. That is, it compiled and analysed previous studies to see if an overall conclusion could be drawn from the various individual results. While there have been many small studies of different relaxation therapies, they were each too small to make any definitive claims for relaxation’s effectiveness.
The article looked at 25 trials which studied the effects of relaxation on 1198 participants, with follow-up periods of between 8 weeks and 5 years. Overall, these studies showed that different relaxation techniques could reduce systolic blood pressure by 5.5 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 3.5 mmHg. This is a small but significant difference.
However, the article also looked at the quality of these previous studies. It found that when the relaxation techniques were compared to “sham therapy”, the difference between the two became much smaller. That is, relaxation appeared to be better than no therapy at all, but not much better than a fake therapy.
This is similar to what is called the “placebo effect” in trials of medicines. When participants in the study are given a fake pill instead of the active medicine, there is still usually some effect. Trials will usually compare the effect of the medicines to the effect of the fake pill in order to rule out the placebo effect.
So in this study, relaxation techniques were not found to be significantly more effective than a fake therapy. The article’s authors do argue, however, that this is not conclusive evidence one way or the other, as most of the trials in the analysis were of poor quality. The authors make a case for good-quality controlled trials of relaxation for high blood pressure, to find out once and for all what the effects may be.
In the mean time, they advise people who are interested in lowering their blood pressure without medicines, to make lifestyle changes that have been shown to work, including:
- eating less salt
- eating more fruit and vegetables
- being more active
- keeping to a healthy weight
- drinking alcohol in moderation.
HO Dickinson et al., Relaxation therapies for the management of primary hypertension in adults: a Cochrane review. Journal of Human Hypertension 2008, 22, 809-820.
Topics: Research, Lifestyle, High blood pressure