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Mindfulness Meditation May Cut IBS Symptoms

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Mindfulness Meditation May Cut IBS Symptoms

Our Review Summary

Among several weaknesses in the story, the biggest was a failure to evaluate the quality of the evidence – a failure to help readers understand what this study might mean and what it might not mean.  As we state below in our “Evidence” criterion:

“We aren’t told if the symptom improvement is clinically meaningful.  After all, IBS is a chronic condition and this is a short-term study. And most importantly, the reporting is confusing: “Changes in quality of life …..were not significantly different…. but all were much improved at the 3-month followup in the meditation group.”  And no explanation was given of how symptom changes were measured. Or what was meant by “all were much improved at the three-month followup.”  That’s a big weakness in the story.”

 

Why This Matters

Many people are interested in non-medical approaches to improving health. Mindfulness meditation and other complemenary and alternative therapies, along with exercise and nutritional recommendations are of high interest. Mindfulness meditation and similar therapies are unlikely to have adverse effects and have the potential to be very low cost therapies.  But this story didn’t give them enough about a very early, small study.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

A researcher is quoted as saying the method is “inexpensive.”  We imagine that’s true – although no cost estimate was given.  However, the people in the study took an eight-week course and a half-day retreat.  The costs in this study – in patient time, therapist time, gas bills at $4 a gallon and room space – can’t be trivial.  Some cost estimate should have been given.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story gave only percentages of number of people who saw improvement.  With such a tiny study, why not give the actual numbers?

So, rather than reporting:

  • After the end of the eight-week period, overall IBS severity was reduced more among patients in the mindfulness meditation group compared to the support group: 26.4% vs. 6.2%. After a three-month follow-up, 38.2% of those in mindfulness meditation reported a reduction in severity of IBS symptoms, compared with only 11.8% who said that among patients who took part in the support group therapy.

Why not report that 9 people in the meditation group reported reduced IBS severity compared with 2 in the support group.  And after 3 months, 13 in the meditation group compared with 4 in the support group.

The story was also vague on the degree of symptom improvement, reporting: “Changes in quality-of-life impairment, anxiety, and psychological distress were not significantly different after the eight-week period. But all were much improved at the three-month follow-up in the meditation group.”  What does “much improved” mean?  This is the core of the issue and it wasn’t explained adequately enough.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  We can’t imagine what the harm of this meditative approach would be.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

We applaud the continued attempt by WebMD to include the boilerplate language at the end:

  • This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the “peer review” process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

But we suggest some improved language:

  • This study was presented at a medical conference. Results released at scientific meetings don’t undergo the same depth of peer review as papers submitted to medical journals.  So it is difficult to draw conclusions from them or to get independent perspectives. And findings from such a small sample should be considered preliminary. 

The story states that 75 women were studied.  But the abstract explains that only 66 completed the study – with a 12% dropout rate.  Why did people drop out? And of 66 in the study, only 34 were in the mindfuless training group.

But our biggest problem is this:  we aren’t told if the symptom improvement is clinically meaningful.  After all, IBS is a chronic condition and this is a short-term study. And most importantly, the reporting is confusing: “Changes in quality of life …..were not significantly different…. but all were much improved at the 3-month followup in the meditation group.”  And no explanation was given of how symptom changes were measured. Or what was meant by “all were much improved at the three-month followup.”  That’s a big weakness in the story.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

Not applicable because the story never even provided a basic description of IBS. Some readers may not even know what IBS is.  So you can’t commit disease-mongering when you’ve offered so little background on the condition. But you also can’t educate readers very well this way either.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

No independent expert was quoted.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

NO comparison was made with any other approach to relieving IBS symptoms.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story quotes one of the researchers saying “that mindfulness meditation is a practical, widely applicable and inexpensive method” and that “this method can be learned in educational classes without the need for clinical therapists.”

Widely applicable does not mean widely available.  And “can be learned” doesn’t mean “has been learned.”

True to the spirit of what we’re looking for in this criterion, the story never gives an idea of how widely available this method or this training is.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story didn’t even quote what the authors wrote in their abstract, where they called their work: “This first randomized controlled trial of mindfulness training as an intervention for IBS.”

The story doesn’t provide any background on whether this approach had been tested before for IBS.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Satisfactory

The story admits that it relied on a news release from the Digestive Disease Week conference.

Total Score: 0 of 8 Satisfactory

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