Transcendental meditation, the relaxation technique made famous by the Beatles, can cut heart attack and stroke death rates by up to 50pc, new research has found.
The practice, which involves the continual repeating of a mantra, was found to reduce high blood pressure, cholesterol and thickening of the arteries. It is also protects against diabetes.
"This is a seminal finding," said Dr Norman Rosenthal of the American government's National Institute of Mental Health.
"The prevention of heart attack and stroke and actual lengthening of lifespan by an alternative
treatment method is exceedingly rare, if not unprecedented.
"If Transcendental Meditation were a drug conferring so many benefits, it would be a billion-dollar blockbuster."
Stress is a major factor in heart disease and meditation experts say the technique can help control it.
Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin followed 201 men and women with an average age of 59 who suffered from the narrowing of arteries in their hearts for nine years.
Half of the group were taught Transcendental Medication along with their normal treatment while the others just received advice on how to modify their diets and exercise routines.
They found that those who regularly meditated reduced their chances of dying or having a heart attack or stroke by 47 per cent compared with those who received traditional care.
In those who were particularly enthusiastic about the mediation or unusually susceptible to stress, the results were even stronger.
They showed a two-thirds reduction in chances of dying during the trial.
Professor Theodore Kotchen, the co-author of the £2.5 million trial, said: "These findings are the strongest documented effects yet produced by a mind-body intervention on cardiovascular disease.
"The effect is as large or larger than major categories of drug treatment for cardiovascular disease."
"This study builds on previous research findings showing that the Transcendental Meditation program reduces high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, psychological stress, and atherosclerosis, and takes it to the next step — lower rates of death, heart attack, and stroke," explained Dr Robert Schneider, co-author.
The research was carried out in the African American population but there is no reason that the same results would not be repeated in the wider world.
Cardiovascular disease is Britain's biggest killer accounting for almost 200,000 deaths a year.
The researchers said that meditation technique should be used as a compliment to the usual drug treatment and not as an alternative.
Transcendental meditation. which is based on an ancient tradition of enlightenment in India, involves sitting quietly and concentrating to focus the mind inwards by silently repeating a mantra – a word or phrase.
The practice, which is carried out for 20 minutes, twice a day, is said to induce inner peace by allowing thoughts to flow in and out of the mind.
It was popularised in the 1960s through the Beatles who learnt the technique through their guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
The study was due to appear in Archives of Internal Medecine but last night its editor said publication was being delayed while last minute data provided by the research team was analysed.