Newswise — BALTIMORE — In an article published March 13, 2020 in the journal Pain, David A. Seminowicz, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Neural and Pain Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD), and coauthors show how mindfulness can help in the fight against migraines.

The article states that mindfulness — a concept derived from a 2,000-year-old Eastern practice — “is an effective treatment option for episodic migraine."

It’s part of a study conducted in collaboration with Jennifer A. Haythornthwaite, PhD, professor in the John Hopkins School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and a coauthor of the Pain article. Funded by a $3.6 million National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) grant, subjects received weeks of training at Johns Hopkins in either enhanced mindfulness-based stress reduction or a tailored course on stress management for headaches. Patients recorded their headaches in a diary and received functional MRI testing at UMSOD at baseline and at 10 and 20 weeks.

The results were positive: Mindfulness was an effective treatment for those suffering from migraines. The researchers found that, compared to those who received training in stress management, those who practiced enhanced mindfulness had fewer headache days and reduced headache-related disability. The MRI findings suggested that the enhanced mindfulness group also had improvements in attention-related brain network function.

In the Pain article, Seminowicz and his coauthors write that the results were “comparable to commonly used first[-]line treatments” such as valproic acid.

“This is really good news for patients,” Seminowicz says, “especially because mindfulness is a non-pharmaceutical option that has no side effects.”

Such a discovery can have lifechanging effects.

“Dr. Seminowicz’s novel research on alternative methods to pharmacological interventions has the potential to improve the lives of those afflicted with migraines and others who suffer from chronic pain,” said Mark A. Reynolds, DDS, PhD, dean and professor at UMSOD.

Having studied chronic pain for the better part of two decades, Seminowicz was always interested in non-pharmacological interventions and was drawn to mindfulness due to its accessibility.

“It can be learned by anyone,” he says, which makes it accessible and useful when pharmaceuticals are not.

He is now at work on another National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded mindfulness study, this time focusing on rheumatoid arthritis. The goal there is to go a step further, determining what aspects of mindfulness are most effective.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the NCCIH of the NIH under Award Number R01AT007176. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.


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