Background: Psychological distress and comorbid psychopathology contribute to exacerbation risk in patients with asthma. Thus, interventions designed to reduce stress and improve emotion regulation, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), may augment standard care. Few studies have addressed this question and a paucity of data exists to determine the ability of MBSR to impact clinical outcomes in asthma.
Methods: This randomized controlled trial investigated effects of MBSR training on asthma control and airway inflammation, in relation to psychological symptoms, in adults with asthma. Participants were randomized to an 8-week MBSR training (n = 35) or wait-list control group (n = 34). Clinically relevant asthma assessments, including Asthma Control Questionnaire and inflammatory biomarkers, were collected at baseline and six approximately-monthly follow-ups. Self-reported mindfulness, distress, depression, and anxiety symptoms were assessed at baseline, post-intervention, and study completion. Chronic stress level was determined at baseline only.
Results: Asthma control improved significantly in individuals randomized to MBSR, relative to wait-list controls (p = .01; effect size d = 0.76), which was maintained at 4mo post-intervention. 32% of MBSR participants achieved a clinically significant improvement, based on the ACQ6 Minimally Important Difference, relative to 12% of wait-list participants. Moreover, MBSR-related improvement in asthma control was associated with a reduction in distress (p = .043) and the intervention was most efficacious for those with the highest baseline depressive symptoms (p = .023). Importantly, MBSR also reduced levels of exhaled nitric oxide, a biomarker of airway inflammation, relative to wait-list controls (p < .05).
Conclusion: Supporting and extending extant evidence of mind-body relationships in asthma and the benefits of stress reduction for these patients, this is, to the best of our knowledge, the first RCT to demonstrate that training in MBSR improves clinically relevant asthma outcomes. MBSR may thus be a valuable addition to optimal asthma management, particularly for those with comorbid psychopathology.
Clinical trial registration: NCT02157766.
Keywords: Asthma control; Depression; Inflammation; Mindfulness; Psychological distress.
© 2022 The Authors.