stress reduction

Mindfulness from meditation associated with lower stress hormone :: UC Davis News and Information

Focusing on the present rather than letting the mind drift may help to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, suggests new research from the Shamatha Project at the University of California, Davis.

The ability to focus mental resources on immediate experience is an aspect of mindfulness, which can be improved by meditation training.

“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 first author of a paper describing the work, published this week in the journal Health Psychology.

High levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, are associated with physical or emotional stress. Prolonged release of the hormone contributes to wide-ranging, adverse effects on a number of physiological systems.

The new findings are the latest to come from the Shamatha Project, a comprehensive long-term, control-group study of the effects of meditation training on mind and body.

Led by Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, the Shamatha Project has drawn the attention of both scientists and Buddhist scholars including the Dalai Lama, who has endorsed the project.

In the new study, Jacobs, Saron and their colleagues used a questionnaire to measure aspects of mindfulness among a group of volunteers before and after an intensive, three-month meditation retreat. They also measured cortisol levels in the volunteers’ saliva.

During the retreat, Buddhist scholar and teacher B. Alan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies trained participants in such attentional skills as mindfulness of breathing, observing mental events, and observing the nature of consciousness. Participants also practiced cultivating benevolent mental states, including loving kindness, compassion, empathic joy and equanimity.

At an individual level, there was a correlation between a high score for mindfulness and a low score in cortisol both before and after the retreat. Individuals whose mindfulness score increased after the retreat showed a decrease in cortisol.

“The more a person reported directing their cognitive resources to immediate sensory experience and the task at hand, the lower their resting cortisol,” Jacobs said.

The research did not show a direct cause and effect, Jacobs emphasized. Indeed, she noted that the effect could run either way — reduced levels of cortisol could lead to improved mindfulness, rather than the other way around. Scores on the mindfulness questionnaire increased from pre- to post-retreat, while levels of cortisol did not change overall.

According to Jacobs, training the mind to focus on immediate experience may reduce the propensity to ruminate about the past or worry about the future, thought processes that have been linked to cortisol release.

“The idea that we can train our minds in a way that fosters healthy mental habits and that these habits may be reflected in mind-body relations is not new; it’s been around for thousands of years across various cultures and ideologies,” Jacobs said. “However, this idea is just beginning to be integrated into Western medicine as objective evidence accumulates. Hopefully, studies like this one will contribute to that effort.”

Saron noted that in this study, the authors used the term “mindfulness” to refer to behaviors that are reflected in a particular mindfulness scale, which was the measure used in the study.

“The scale measured the participants’ propensity to let go of distressing thoughts and attend to different sensory domains, daily tasks, and the current contents of their minds. However, this scale may only reflect a subset of qualities that comprise the greater quality of mindfulness, as it is conceived across various contemplative traditions,” he said.

Previous studies from the Shamatha Project have shown that the meditation retreat had positive effects on visual perception, sustained attention, socio-emotional well-being, resting brain activity and on the activity of telomerase, an enzyme important for the long-term health of body cells.

Co-authors on the paper, in addition to Jacobs, Saron and Wallace, are: UC Davis graduate students Stephen Aichele, Anthony Zanesco and Brandon King; Associate Professor Emilio Ferrer and Distinguished Professor Phillip Shaver from the UC Davis Department of Psychology; Baljinder Sahdra, lecturer in psychology at the University of Western Sydney; consulting scientist Erika Rosenberg from the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain; Katherine MacLean, instructor in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; David Bridwell, postdoctoral fellow at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, N.M.; and Associate Professor Elissa Epel and Professor Margaret Kemeny, from the UCSF Department of Psychiatry.

Major support for the Shamatha Project has come from the Fetzer Institute and the Hershey Family Foundation. Additional support has come from numerous private foundations including the Baumann Foundation; the Tan Teo Charitable Foundation; the Yoga Research and Education Foundation; and individual donors. Individual researchers also received fellowship and other support from the National Science Foundation; the Social Sciences, Humanities Research Council of Canada; and the Barney and Barbro Fund. The project recently won support from the John Templeton Foundation to continue and extend the work.

The Center for Mind and Brain is one of three overlapping research centers at UC Davis that bring together researchers from the School of Medicine, College of Biological Sciences, and College of Letters and Science to work on the function of the brain. Founded in 2002, the Center for Mind and Brain studies cognition, vision, language, meditation and music. The Center for Neuroscience, established in 1990, investigates brain structure, memory, and the genes and molecules involved in conditions such as schizophrenia and depression. The MIND Institute was founded in 1998 with the support of six local families, five of whom have children with autism. It works with autistic children and their families, and on fragile X syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

About UC Davis

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has more than 33,000 students, more than 2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff, an annual research budget of nearly $750 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

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Mindfulness from meditation associated with lower stress hormone :: UC Davis News & Information.

 

Hard evidence grows for including meditation in government-sponsored health programs | Science Codex

More people still die from cardiovascular disease than any other illness. Dubbed the number one killer and the silent killer, modern medicine has been researching and incorporating complementary and alternative approaches to help treat and in some cases reverse and hopefully prevent this health problem at an earlier stage of the disease. One of those modalities is meditation.

A new research review paper on the effects of the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique on the prevention and treatment of heart disease among youth and adults provides the hard evidence needed to include such evidence-based alternative approaches into private- and government-sponsored wellness programs aimed at preventing and treating cardiovascular disease.

The paper, “Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease in Adolescents and Adults through the Transcendental Meditation® Program: A Research Review Update” is published in Current Hypertension Reviews, 2012, Vol. 8, No. 3.

In teens, the TM technique has been found to reduce blood pressure, improve heart structure and improve school behavior. According to the paper, the technique has been shown to be a safe alternative. The NIH-sponsored clinical trials conducted with TM mentioned in this review did not observe any adverse effects from TM practice.

In adults the technique reduced stress hormones and other physiological measures of stress and produced more rapid recovery from stress, decreased blood pressure and use of blood pressure medication, decreased heart pain in angina patients, cleared the arteries, reducing the risk of stroke, improved distance walked in patients with congestive heart failure, and decreased alcohol and tobacco use, anxiety, depression, and medical care usage and expenditures. The technique also decreased risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and all causes.

“These findings have important implications for inclusion of the Transcendental Meditation program in medical efforts to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Vernon Barnes, lead author and research scientist at Georgia Health Sciences University, in Augusta, Georgia.

“This review is potentially more important than individual research papers because it shows that TM has an integrated, holistic effect on all levels of cardiovascular disease,” says co-author, Dr. David Orme-Johnson.

Orme-Johnson says that no other meditation technique has been shown to produce this constellation of changes, especially when it comes to hard measures of cardiovascular disease.

This model shows how regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation Program may reduce chronic stress, which in turn reduces CVD risk factors and improves stress reactivity, thereby decreasing cardiovascular disease, and consequential morbidity and mortality.

(Photo Credit: Vernon A. Barnes)

Dr. Barnes said it was important to start preventing heart disease with adolescents before the disease sets. “Adding Transcendental Meditation at a young age could prevent future cardiovascular disease and save many lives, not to mention reduce the national medical bill by billions of dollars.”

Uniqueness of the Transcendental Meditation technique

The uniqueness of the outcomes of the TM technique may have something to do with the mechanics of the practice of the technique itself says Dr. Barnes. “Meditation practices are different from each other and therefore produce different results. And this is a very important consideration when evaluating the application of meditation as an alternative and complementary medical approach.”

A paper in Consciousness and Cognition discusses three categories to organize and better understand meditation. See Are all meditation techniques the same?

The two common categories are focused attention, concentrating on an object or an emotion, like compassion; and open monitoring, being mindful of one’s breath or thoughts, either contemplating the meaning of them, or just observing them.

Transcendental Meditation uses a different approach and comes under the third category of automatic self-transcending, meditations that transcend their own activity.

The TM technique does not employ any active form of concentration or contemplation, but allows the mind to effortlessly experience the thought process at more refined levels until thinking comes to a quiet settled state without any mental activity. The mind is awake inside and the body is resting deeply, a level of rest much deeper than deep sleep. It is this state of restful alertness that allows the body to make the necessary repairs to rebalance its normal functioning. This cumulative process resets the physiology and shows up as reduced symptoms of cardiovascular disease and improved health.

Source: Maharishi University of Management

via Hard evidence grows for including meditation in government-sponsored health programs | Science Codex.