Search This Blog

Friday, July 26, 2013

Meditation associated with structural changes in brain

Meditation associated with structural changes in brain
Nov. 13, 2005
Courtesy Massachusetts General Hospital
and World Science staff

Regular meditation appears to produce structural changes in areas of the brain associated with attention and sensory processing, a study has found. 
The imaging study, led by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers, showed that particular areas of the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain, were thicker in participants who were experienced practitioners of a type of meditation commonly practised in the U.S. and other Western countries.
The article appears in the Nov. 15 issue of the journal NeuroReport, and the research also is being presented Nov. 14 at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, DC.
“Our results suggest that meditation can produce experience-based structural alterations in the brain,” said Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study’s lead author. “We also found evidence that mediation may slow down the ageing-related atrophy of certain areas of the brain.”

Studies have shown that mediation can produce alterations in brain activity, and meditation practitioners have described changes in mental function that last long after actual meditation ceases, implying long-term effects. However, those studies usually examined Buddhist monks who practised mediation as a central focus of their lives.

To investigate whether meditation as typically practised in the U.S. could change the brain’s structure, the current study enrolled 20 practitioners of Buddhist Insight meditation – which focuses on “mindfulness,” a specific, non judgemental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind. They averaged nine years of mediation experience and practised about six hours per week. For comparison, 15 people with no experience of meditation or yoga were enrolled as controls.

Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to produce detailed images of the structure of participants’ brains, the researchers found that regions involved in the mental activities that characterize Insight meditation were thicker in the meditators than in the controls, the first evidence that alterations in brain structure may be associated with meditation. They also found that, in an area associated with the integration of emotional and cognitive processes, differences in cortical thickness were more pronounced in older participants, suggesting that meditation could reduce the thinning of the cortex that typically occurs with ageing.

“The area where we see these differences is involved in both the modulation of functions like heart rate and breathing and also the integration of emotion with thought and reward-based decision making – a central switchboard of the brain,” said Lazar. An instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School, she also stresses that the results of such a small study need to be validated by larger, longer-term studies.

No comments: