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Take a deep breath: OHSU offers combat veterans meditation therapy to help ease effects of combat-related PTSD

OHSU scientists are exploring alternative treatments for post-combat stress as part of five-year study

Oregon Health & Science University is beginning a research study to examine the different aspects of mindfulness meditation as part of an effort to find new ways to treat combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

An estimated 15 percent to 50 percent  of all veterans returning from deployment suffer from PTSD, although the exact number is unclear.  In the case of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, 62,929 (21.8 percent) were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from 2002 to 2008 according to one University of California San Francisco study.  Thousands of additional combat veterans from other wars also suffer from the disorder.  PTSD causes veterans to experience increased anxiety, trouble sleeping, difficulty in relationships, and recurring unwanted thoughts and dreams about their past traumas that impair their normal functioning.

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to help people deal with anxiety, intrusive thoughts and sleep difficulties, issues similar to what people with PTSD face. OHSU scientists believe the therapy may help combat veterans as well. The university has begun a five-year study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

"People who suffer from PTSD have greater activation in the emotional processing part of their brain called the amygdala," says Helané Wahbeh, N.D., a naturopathic physician-researcher at OHSU. "And they have less activation in their frontal lobe, which modulates their emotional response. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to help reorient the brain, so the frontal areas of the brain are better able to process over-reactive emotional responses that hinder people from leading normal lives."

For example, a Vietnam veteran might be walking down the street when they hear a helicopter, and be overcome by intrusive thoughts related to their time in combat. If they suffer from PTSD, they may experience a flashback where they temporarily believe they are back in Vietnam. Mindfulness meditation should help them realize they are dealing with a memory or flashback, and not the actual combat situation, Wahbeh explained.

OHSU is seeking veterans between the ages of 25 and 65 to participate. Interested veterans can call 503-494-7399.  The study is part of an ongoing series at OHSU's Oregon Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine in Neurological Disorders that seeks to identify complementary and alternative therapies that will effectively treat PTSD.

"The project described was supported by Award Number K01AT0004951 from the National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine or National Institutes of Health."

About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is the state's only health and research university, and Oregon's only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government)... OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state. 

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