Meditation Shown to Lower Stress Hormone Levels

New research from the Shamantha Project at the University of California, Davis – a long-term, control-group study on the effects of meditation training on the mind and body – shows focusing on the present moment rather then letting the mind drift may help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, reported.

“This is the first study to show a direct relation between resting cortisol and scores on any type of mindfulness scale,” said Tonya Jacobs, a postdoctoral researcher at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, and the first author of a paper describing the work published in the journal Health Psychology.

High levels of cortisol, which is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, is associated with physical and emotional stress, and prolonged release of the hormone contributes to a host of adverse effects on physiological systems, according to the report.

Researchers used a questionnaire to measure aspects of mindfulness among a group of volunteers before and after intensive, three-month meditation retreat, and they also measured cortisol levels in the volunteer’s saliva, the report stated.

During the retreat, researchers trained participants in mindfulness breathing, observing mental events, and observing the nature of consciousness by Buddhist teacher B. Alan Wallace of Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies. They also practiced loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity.

There was a correlation between a high score for mindfulness and a low score in cortisol before and after the retreat, and those whose mindfulness score increased, also showed a decrease in cortisol.

Training the mind to focus on immediate experience may reduce the propensity to ruminate about the past and worry about the future – thought processes that have been linked to cortisol release, said Jacobs.

Mindfulness Meditation May Reduce Stress-Induced Inflammation, Study Shows

Those suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma, where psychological stress plays an important role, may benefit from mindfulness-based stress reduction, a form of meditation, according to a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, reported.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction, which is designed for patients with chronic pain, has practitioners continuously focus attention on the breath, body sensations and mental content, while either seated, walking or practicing yoga.

The study compared two methods of reducing stress: a mindfulness meditation-based approach, and a program designed to enhance health in ways unrelated to mindfulness.

The other group participated in the Health Enhancement Program, which included nutritional education; physical activity, such as walking; balance, agility and core strengthening; and music therapy, the article stated.

Both groups had the same amount of training, the same level of expertise in the instructors, and the same amount of home practice required by participants.

“In this setting, we could see if there were changes that we could detect that were specific to mindfulness,” Melissa Rosenkranz, assistant scientist at the center and lead author on the paper, which was published recently in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity said in the article.

Using a tool called the Trier Social Stress Test to induce psychological stress, and a capsaicin cream to produce inflammation on the skin, the researchers took immune and endocrine measures before and after training in the two methods. While both techniques were proven effective in reducing stress, the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach was more effective at reducing stress-induced inflammation.

The results show behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity are beneficial to people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions. The study also suggests mindfulness techniques may be more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms than other activities that promote well-being, the article stated.

“This is not a cure-all, but our study does show there are specific ways that mindfulness can be beneficial, and that there are specific people who may be more likely to benefit from this approach than other interventions,” Rosenkranz said in the report.

Liv Tyler Says Meditation Helps Her With ADD and More

On December 13, 2012, the David Lynch Foundation held a fundraiser at Lincoln Center to raise money for its transcendental mediation program – teaching the practice to children and teachers in schools, as well as war veterans suffering from PTSD – and celebrity supporters showed up, including Dr. Oz, his wife Lisa, and Liv Tyler.

Tyler told YourTango meditation has had an amazing influence on her life. “Meditation and being close to yourself helps everything in your life,” Tyler said in the report. “It helps myself make better decisions and be a better mother, and just deal with the daily stress of the modern world that we live in. It helps with everything.”

She also told the New York Daily News that she suffers from ADD, and transcendental mediation helps her with that as well.

Meditation Influences the Brain Outside of the Practice

Meditation can have measurable effects on how the brain functions – even when the person is not actively meditation, according to a new study based on an 8-week meditation training program.

Published in the November issue of “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,” investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston University (BU), and several other research centers also found differences in those effects based on the specific type of meditation practiced, according to the report.

“The two different types of meditation training our study participants completed yielded some differences in the response of the amygdala – a part of the brain known for decades to be important for emotion – to images with emotional content,” said Gaëlle Desbordes, PhD, one of the report authors, and a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and at the BU Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology. “This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state.”

Participants enrolled in a larger investigation into the effects of two forms of meditation, based at Emory University in Atlanta. Healthy adults with no experience meditating participated in 8-week courses in either mindful attention meditation or compassion meditation, while a control group participated in an 8-week health education course.

Within three weeks before beginning and three weeks after completing the training, 12 participants from each group traveled to Boston for fMRI brain imaging at the Martinos Center’s state-of-the-art imaging facilities. Brain scans were performed as the volunteers viewed a series of 216 different images – 108 per session – of people in situations with either positive, negative or neutral emotional content.

Meditation was not mentioned in pre-imaging instructions to participants, and investigators confirmed afterwards the volunteers had not meditated while in the scanner. Participants also completed assessments of symptoms of depression and anxiety before and after the training programs.

In the mindful attention group, the after-training brain scans showed a decrease in activation in the right amygdala in response to all images, supporting the hypothesis that meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress. In the compassion meditation group, right amygdala activity also decreased in response to positive or neutral images.

However, among those who reported practicing compassion meditation most frequently outside of the training sessions, right amygdala activity tended to increase in response to negative images – all of which depicted some form of human suffering. No significant changes were seen in the control group or in the left amygdala of any study participants.

“We think these two forms of meditation cultivate different aspects of mind,” Desbordes said in the report. “Since compassion meditation is designed to enhance compassionate feelings, it makes sense that it could increase amygdala response to seeing people suffer. Increased amygdala activation was also correlated with decreased depression scores in the compassion meditation group, which suggests that having more compassion towards others may also be beneficial for oneself. Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.”

Kirtan Kriya Meditation Reduces Stress & Inflammation

A UCLA study of 45 caregivers whose family members have Alzheimer’s and dementia found that 12 minutes a day of Kirtan Kriya Meditation showed a reduction of stress levels. Six months later, the researchers discovered why – there was a reduction in the biological mechanisms responsible for an increase in the immune system’s inflammation response.

Reporting in the current online edition of the journal “Psychoneuroendocrinology,” Dr. Helen Lavretsky, senior author and a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and colleagues found that of the 45 caregivers in the study, 68 of their genes responded differently after the meditation, which resulted in reduced inflammation, ScienceDaily reported.

In the study, the participants were randomly placed into two groups. The meditation group was taught a 12-minute yogic practice that included Kirtan Kriya, which was performed every day at the same time for eight weeks. The other group was asked to relax in a quiet place with their eyes closed while listening to instrumental music on a relaxation CD for the same time period. Blood samples were taken at the beginning of the study and again at the end of the eight weeks, the report stated.

“The goal of the study was to determine if meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins that shape immune cell gene expression,” said Lavretsky. “Our analysis showed a reduced activity of those proteins linked directly to increased inflammation. This is encouraging news. Caregivers often don’t have the time, energy, or contacts that could bring them a little relief from the stress of taking care of a loved one with dementia, so practicing a brief form of yogic meditation, which is easy to learn, is a useful too.”

Lavretsky is a member of UCLA’s recently launched Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program, which provides comprehensive, coordinated care as well as resources and support to patients and their caregivers. Lavretsky has incorporated yoga practice into the caregiver program, ScienceDaily reported.

Regular Exercise & Meditation Can Reduce Cold/Flu Infections

New research shows regular exercise or meditation may be among the best ways to reduce acute respiratory infections, such as the common cold or flu, according to a study published in the July/August issue of Annals of Family Medicine, HealthDay reported.

Researchers studied 149 active and sedentary adults aged 50 and older, to compare the preventative effects of moderate exercise and mindful meditation on the severity of respiratory infections. They found those participants who started a daily exercise routine had fewer bouts of respiratory infections and missed fewer days of work, and those doing mindfulness meditation were more protected against illness.

“The results are remarkable; we saw a 40 to 50 percent reduction in respiratory infections,” said Dr. Bruce Barrett, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the lead author of the study.

While the study uncovered an association between the mind and body activities and less instances of illness, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

“My thinking is that mindfulness meditation would reduce perceived stress and that exercise would work through more physiological pathways [to improve] the immune system,” Barrett said in the report.

The study involved mostly white women who were not already meditating or doing moderate exercise more than once a week, and they were broken into three groups – no change to habits; an eight-week program of moderate exercise, such as running or biking; and only mindfulness meditation, which included yoga, stretching, walking and other activities.

During the cold and flu season, the results showed those who meditated had 27 episodes of acute respiratory illness and a combined total of 257 days of illness; those who exercised had 241 sick days and 26 episodes; and those who did not change their habits had 40 episodes and 453 sick days.

The meditation group lost 16 days of work to illness, the exercise group lost 32, and the group that did not change their habits missed 67 days.

The numbers all suggested that exercise and meditation reduce respiratory illness, Barrett said. “This trial convinced me that they worked,” he explained.

The study also suggested that when individuals in the meditation group did fall ill, they seemed to suffer less and feel sick for less amount of time.