July 23, 2013

Can Meditation Cure?

Sixteen study participants took part in an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. Magnetic Resonance Images were taken two weeks prior to the experiment and two weeks after. The participants were meditating about an average of twenty seven minutes in a day and document the process by answering questionnaires. A control group is also taken with the images but without the meditation sessions.

"Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day," says Sara Lazar, PhD, the study's senior author.

After analyzing the magnetic resonance images, an increase of grey matter in the hippocampus was reported. This particular brain structure is related to memory, sense of self, empathy, learning, compassion and stress. Abnormalities in this same structure is linked to Alzheimer's disease.

A familiar effect of meditation, reduction in stress, was also reported by the subjects. This is correlated with the decreasing grey matter in the amygdala known to be linked with stress and anxiety.

Earlier studies identified a self-awareness-related structure called insula. In the current study, no changes were observed in this area that the authors suggest a long-term study may be conducted separately to support this finding.

Results from the control group never reported any changes at all. In 8 weeks time, no changes observed in their hippocampus, amygdala and insula structures after they have been subjected to Magnetic Resonance Imaging just as the other group did.

One of the lead researchers indicated that their study is focusing on the mechanical study of the brain anatomy and physiology, and was well aware that there is also significance of it in improving health in general. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

The Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation says that meditation can actually help in reducing memory loss from Alzheimer's and added that further studies need to be conducted.

There was a study in 2009 exploring the effects of a certain chanting meditation, Kirtan Kriya. “The PCG [posterior cingulate gyrus] is a critically important anatomical area, because it is the first part of the brain to decrease in function when a person develops Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps it’s possible, therefore, that if everyone did Kirtan Kriya and activated their PCG on a regular basis, the number of people who develop Alzheimer’s would diminish.” This study conducted meditation in an average of 12 minutes a day and shows positive effects from it.

The study is published in the issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.