Mindfulness training and systemic low-grade inflammation in stressed community adults: Evidence from two randomized controlled trials

Mindfulness interventions have garnered significant attention as a complementary health treatment for many physical and psychological conditions. While some research has shown that mindfulness training can decrease psychological and physiological stress responses, it remains unclear whether mindfulness training impacts inflammation—a predictor of poor health outcomes. In addition, little research has examined the active components of mindfulness that may drive health-related improvements. Here, we provide data from two 3-arm randomized controlled trials that examined the effect of mindfulness training on inflammation in stressed community adults. Specifically, we examined whether training individuals to have an accepting attitude towards present moment experiences is a key emotion regulation skill that can lead to decreases in inflammation. Both studies randomly assigned participants to one of three conditions: mindfulness training that taught both attention monitoring and acceptance skills (Monitor+Accept); mindfulness training teaching monitoring without the acceptance component (Monitor Only); or a control condition. Study 1 employed a novel 2-week smartphone-based intervention and Study 2 employed a standard 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention. We hypothesized that Monitor+Accept training would lead to reductions in the inflammatory biomarker C-Reactive Protein (CRP) compared to Monitor Only training and control groups. Contrary to this hypothesis, we found that Monitor+Accept mindfulness training did not lead to reductions in CRP. Exploratory analyses combining study subsamples, however, suggest that both mindfulness interventions may reduce CRP in populations at risk for systemic inflammation—midlife-to-older adults and individuals with high BMI. Overall, the present studies contribute significantly to the question of whether mindfulness interventions can reduce systemic markers of low-grade inflammation.