New research published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows meditation produces powerful pain-relieving effects in the brain, according to a report by Sciencedaily.com. In fact, meditation proved to be more helpful in pain reduction than morphine.
“This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center said in the report “We found a big effect – about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.”
For the study, 15 healthy volunteers who had never meditated went to four, 20-minute classes to learn a mindfulness meditation technique called focused attention, where people are taught to pay attention to their breath and let go of distracting thoughts and emotions. And before and after meditating, participants had their brain activity examined using an ASL MRI or arterial spin labeling MRI.
The scans taken after meditation training showed every participant’s pain ratings were reduced, with decreases ranging from 11 to 93 percent, Zeidan said in the report. Also, meditation significantly reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, an area involved in creating the feeling of where and how intense a painful stimulus is, ScienceDaily reported. While the scans taken before meditation training showed activity in this area was very high, when participants were meditating during the scans, activity in this pain-processing region could not be detected.
The research also showed meditation increased brain activity in areas including the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbito-frontal cortex, which shape how the brain builds an experience of pain from nerve signals, Robert C. Coghill, Ph.D., senior author of the study and associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist said in the report.
“Consistent with this function, the more that these areas were activated by meditation the more that pain was reduced,” he explained. “One of the reasons that meditation may have been so effective in blocking pain was that it did not work at just one place in the brain, but instead reduced pain at multiple levels of processing.”
As a result of the study, Zeidan and colleagues believe meditation offers great potential for clinical use since there is not much training required to product dramatic results. “This study shows that meditation produces real effects in the brain and can provide an effective way for people to substantially reduce their pain without medications,” Zeidan said in the report.