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Posts Tagged ‘brain’

12 November 2012 Meditation Affects Blood Flow to the Brain

Michelle Schoffro CookDecember 30, 2010
Care2.com

Exciting new research that will appear in the January edition of the journal, Psychiatry Research, shows that meditation affects the flow of blood to the brain.

Scientists at the Almanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California Los Angeles studied the effects of meditation on the “stress” circuits of the brain.  Ten experienced meditators performed two types of meditation:  a focus-based meditative technique and a breath-based practice.  The meditators’ brains were scanned using MRI technology before starting, during the meditation practices, and following meditation.

Researchers found that four regions of the brain were affected during meditation and there were different patterns of blood flow to the brain between the two types of meditation states; however, both techniques improved blood flow to the brain.  Some of the brain changes continued even after meditation stopped.

While research in this area is still in its infancy, this positive impact of meditation on blood flow to the brain may have applications in brain disorders or stroke.

19 July 2012 Research Shows Vagus Nerve Stimulation Can Help Reorganize Brain

University of Texas, Dallas
Jul. 19, 2012

Dr. Michael Kilgard helped lead a team that paired vagus nerve stimulation with physical movement to improve brain function.

UT Dallas researchers recently demonstrated how nerve stimulation paired with specific experiences, such as movements or sounds, can reorganize the brain. This technology could lead to new treatments for stroke, tinnitus, autism and other disorders.

In a related paper, UT Dallas neuroscientists showed that they could alter the speed at which the brain works in laboratory animals by pairing stimulation of the vagus nerve with fast or slow sounds.

A team led by Dr. Robert Rennaker and Dr. Michael Kilgard looked at whether repeatedly pairing vagus nerve stimulation with a specific movement would change neural activity within the laboratory rats’ primary motor cortex. To test the hypothesis, they paired the vagus nerve stimulation with movements of the forelimb in two groups of rats. The results were published in a recent issue of Cerebral Cortex.

After five days of stimulation and movement pairing, the researchers examined the brain activity in response to the stimulation. The rats who received the training along with the stimulation displayed large changes in the organization of the brain’s movement control system. The animals receiving identical motor training without stimulation pairing did not exhibit any brain changes, or plasticity.

People who suffer strokes or brain trauma often undergo rehabilitation that includes repeated movement of the affected limb in an effort to regain motor skills. It is believed that repeated use of the affected limb causes reorganization of the brain essential to recovery. The recent study suggests that pairing vagus nerve stimulation with standard therapy may result in more rapid and extensive reorganization of the brain, offering the potential for speeding and improving recovery following stroke, said Rennaker, associate professor in The University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

“Our goal is to use the brain’s natural neuromodulatory systems to enhance the effectiveness of standard therapies,” Rennaker said. “Our studies in sensory and motor cortex suggest that the technique has the potential to enhance treatments for neurological conditions ranging from chronic pain to motor disorders. Future studies will investigate its effectiveness in treating cognitive impairments.”

Since vagus nerve stimulation has an excellent safety record in human patients with epilepsy, the technique provides a new method to treat brain conditions in which the timing of brain responses is abnormal, including dyslexia and schizophrenia.

In another paper in the journal Experimental Neurology, Kilgard led a team that paired vagus nerve stimulation with audio tones of varying speeds to alter the rate of activity within the rats’ brains. The team reported that this technique induced neural plasticity within the auditory cortex, which controls hearing.

The UT Dallas researchers are working with a device developed by MicroTransponder, a biotechnology firm affiliated with the University. MicroTransponder currently is testing a vagus nerve stimulation therapy on human patients in Europe in hopes of reducing or eliminating the symptoms of tinnitus, the debilitating disorder often described as “ringing in the ears.”

“Understanding how brain networks self-organize themselves is vitally important to developing new ways to rehabilitate patients diagnosed with autism, dyslexia, stroke, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Kilgard, a professor of neuroscience.

Treatment of neurological disease is currently limited to pharmacological, surgical or behavioral interventions. But this recent research indicates it may be possible to effectively manipulate the plasticity of the human brain for a variety of purposes. Patients then could benefit from brain activity intentionally directed toward rebuilding lost skills.

If subsequent studies confirm the UT Dallas findings, human patients may have access to more efficient therapies that are minimally invasive and avoid long-term use of drugs.

 

24 June 2012 The Calm Brain: The Neurology of Stress and Calm or ‘How to Relax without Drugs’

by Gayatri Devi, M.D.
June 19, 2012
The Huffington Post

Imagine driving your car using only the gas pedal, never the brake? To slow down, you’d ease up on the gas or tinker with the fuel injection. To improve performance, you’d mix in additives to the fuel. On the occasions you do use the brake, you forget to ease up on the gas, so you are speeding up and trying to slow down at the same time. Sounds crazy-making and completely inefficient, doesn’t it? Over time, we’d run down this car, destroy its machinery.

The sad fact is, that in modern life, we run our bodies much like this car. Our bodies have a hard-wired system for stress and speed, and an equally powerful built-in system for relaxation and quiet. Just like with our car analogy, appropriate use of the right system gets us to our next life destination faster, more efficiently, without burning out our bodies. Using your hard-wired calm system gets you to a state of optimal mental efficiency, gets you into your “zone.” In my new book, A Calm Brain, I explore this system.

To Calm or Not to Calm, That Is the Question…

But many of us have forgotten how to access our calm system in the maddening daily rat race that is urban life. Our daily demands have made us override and forget about our natural relaxation system, so now we reach for the medicine cabinet instead when we want to unwind. How many of us know someone who uses both stimulant and sedative drugs, often on the same day, much like stepping on the gas and brake pedals at the same time? How does this affect our health? Not in a good way, surely. While there clearly is a role for the judicious use of medication, too many of us are using drugs for basic human functions like sleeping and relaxing.

What is your body’s powerful brake pedal, your oft-overlooked and neglected system? An integral component of your braking system is your vagus nerve, a far-flung nerve that reaches nearly all the organs of your body. It slows down your breathing and your heart rate and modulates your voice. It has been called the “great wandering protector” for good reason. Tapping into the vagus helps us achieve both brain and body health, which is the right balance between relaxation and stress.

The Vagus Nerve

2012-06-15-vagus_nerve.JPG

But how do we tap into the vagus and increase its activity? Meditation is one way, but some of us don’t have time for meditation, and some of us are just no good at it. Our runaway brains keep us from focusing on just one thing, which is what meditation requires. Working meditation-type principles into our day by uni-tasking is a simple way to tap into the vagus. Uni-tasking is the antithesis of multitasking — our daily effort to pack as much as possible into each sardine-can-minute of our day. Try just taking your dog out for a walk, leaving your cell phone at home. Try just savoring your dinner, without texting or checking your email at the same time. Sleep is another way to tap into the vagus. Touch is another. Give someone a hug or a smile and increase activity in your vagus. Turn off your cell phone for a quick vagal boost!

The neurology of this oft-overlooked nerve is fascinating. I always thought of the vagus as primarily a nerve that carried information from the brain to the body. I have since discovered that 90 percent of the fibers in this nerve do precisely the reverse, ferrying information from the body to the brain. Your vagus nerve is your local in-the-trenches news reporter on the “state of your body,” carrying information instantaneously to your brain, a different circuit entirely from your spinal cord. And accessing and increasing the activity of this nerve is crucial for our health.

Other components of our biological system for calm include our evolutionarily older “core” brain, a key factor in how we feel. This “unconscious” system is far more powerful than our newer, rational brain — our frontal lobes. This is why we sometimes feel inexplicably uneasy in a situation or “instinctively” dislike someone, a “gut” feeling, even if consciously and rationally, there seems to be no reason for the anxiety. In A Calm Brain, I discuss the exquisite biology of these systems and how to harness them for a healthier, drug-free and more productive life.

 

15 March 2012 Effects of meditation experience on functional connectivity of distributed brain networks | Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

Marsha Lucas, PhD
March 14, 2012
Rewire your Brain for Love

I do love open access articles on neuroscience and meditation – and I’m even happier to share them here. Here’s one from Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (from Emory University researchers – my grad school alma mater. Yay, Dr. Barsalou!)

Effects of meditation experience on functional connectivity of distributed brain networks

By  Wendy Hasenkamp and Lawrence W. Barsalou    

Neurons in action

This study sought to examine the effect of meditation experience on brain networks under- lying cognitive actions employed during contemplative practice. In a previous study, we proposed a basic model of naturalistic cognitive fluctuations that occur during the practice of focused attention meditation.This model specifies four intervals in a cognitive cycle: mind wandering (MW), awareness of MW, shifting of attention, and sustained attention. Using subjective input from experienced practitioners during meditation, we identified activity in salience network regions during awareness of MW and executive network regions during shifting and sustained attention. Brain regions associated with the default mode were active during MW. In the present study, we reasoned that repeated activation of attentional brain networks over years of practice may induce lasting functional connectivity changes within relevant circuits. To investigate this possibility, we created seeds representing the networks that were active during the four phases of the earlier study, and examined func- tional connectivity during the resting state in the same participants. Connectivity maps were then contrasted between participants with high vs. low meditation experience. Participants with more meditation experience exhibited increased connectivity within attentional networks, as well as between attentional regions and medial frontal regions. These neural relationships may be involved in the development of cognitive skills, such as maintaining attention and disengaging from distraction, that are often reported with meditation practice. Furthermore, because altered connectivity of brain regions in experienced meditators was observed in a non-meditative (resting) state, this may represent a transference of cognitive abilities “off the cushion” into daily life.

To Read More Download the Article in PDF form HERE

20 February 2012 Meditation helps kids pay attention, leading researcher says

By Gordon Hoekstra
February 16, 2012
 The Province
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Meditation, long deemed the exclusive domain of monks and Eastern culture fads, is now being shown by scientific research to have positive, long-lasting effects on the human brain — even among children.[iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Simple meditation techniques, backed up with modern scientific knowledge of the brain, are helping kids hard-wire themselves to be able to better pay attention and become kinder, says neuroscientist Richard Davidson.Davidson — who will speak Friday at the University of British Columbia on his new co-authored book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain— has put his research into practice at elementary schools in Madison, Wis.About 200 students at four elementary schools have used breathing techniques to hard-wire their brains to improve their ability to focus on their work.

“It’s so widely popular and successful, the district wants us to scale it up the entire (Madison) school system,” Davidson said Wednesday in an interview.

Davidson, who was inspired by a meeting with the Dalai Lama in 1992 to research areas like kindness and compassion, heads up several laboratories at the University of Wisconsin including the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.

In 2006, Davidson was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Davidson said research has shown why the brain’s circuitry is important in governing a person’s resilience to stress.

Research has also shown the brain is elastic, that it can be shaped by experience and behaviour.

Research, including brain imaging studies, also shows it is possible to cultivate the mind to change brain function and structure in ways that will promote higher levels of well-being and increased resilience, said Davidson. His research is outlined in dozens of articles in scientific journals.

The techniques used with elementary schoolchildren are quite simple. To improve a child’s ability to pay attention — and also improve their studying abilities — a stone is put on a child’s belly, and they learn to focus on their breathing as the stone goes up and down.

The technique can be taught to children as young as four, said Davidson.

“A simple anchor like one’s breath is a centuries-old meditation technique, but it turns out to have some very beneficial qualities in terms of changes in both the brain and behaviour,” he said.

To foster kindness in teenagers, students are asked to visualize a loved one suffering followed by a thought that they be relieved of that suffering.

This is extended to difficult people as well, said Davidson.

This exercise has also been shown to produce meaningful changes in the brain and behaviour, he said.

Elementary schools in Vancouver have also embraced these meditation techniques as part of a program called MindUp that teaches children that it is hard to concentrate when the brain is stressed.

More than 1,000 teachers have trained in the program at the Vancouver school board, and the district has received requests from other school districts, including in Yukon, to teach the program.

28 December 2011 Holiday happiness is just an attitude boost away

by Kevin Fagan
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle

Paul Chinn / The Chronicle - Graduate student Craig Anderson (left) and psychology professor Dacher Keltner conducts research on happiness in Keltner's UC Berkeley lab on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011

It turns out you don’t have to be miserable during the holidays.That’s now scientifically proven by studies, say UC Berkeley scientists who do those studies.

These wise men and women have come up with quantifiable, tested data showing that with little more than an attitude boost, anyone can get through the toughest of holiday times with not just smiles on their faces, but real warmth in their hearts.

That goes for all those encounters with father-in-laws who could never stand your face, nephews who smash your favorite platter just to hear it shatter and sisters who think you’re a loser. Or even cousins fresh out of prison for the New Year.

It’s all about concentrating on the things in our lives that work well and being thankful for them, then tossing in a heaping helping of compassion, say the goodness-minded folks at the Greater Good Science Center.

Carrying on nice family rituals, religious or not, that are comforting and foster pleasant togetherness also goes a long way, they say.

Grind out the Grinch

The center has a set of reports, self-administered online tests – the “Altruism Quiz” is one – and graphics with good-attitude hints to reinforce all this advice. Paying close attention can help grind the Grinch right out of anyone, the center’s researchers say.

“The gist of it isn’t any more complicated than the fact that consumption and materialism will not make us happy,” said Christine Carter, a sociologist whose title at the center is the Santa-worthy one of “Happiness Expert.”

“We confuse those things with happiness,” Carter said. “But we have found that there are three main things that make you happier over the holidays, and they have nothing to do with materialism.”

Those three things consist of feeling grateful for the good things in your life, taking time with your family and using every opportunity you can to help others.

“The need for feeling grateful starts with Thanksgiving, but it doesn’t have to end,” Carter said. “It’s important all year round to be grateful for the things that a lot of people take for granted. It can be your kids, your close friends, even just the fact that you have hot water for a shower.

“When you train your attention on what you feel grateful for, you are highly likely to miss the hassles,” Carter said. “Our brains act as giant filters. We are either going to notice what we appreciate, or things that tick us off.”

Helping helps

As for helping others, Carter said, studies of emotional stimulation prove that the old saying about it being “better to give than to receive” is not just folklore.

“When you help someone else, whether it’s at a soup kitchen or just among your friends, it just makes you happier,” she said. “For one, when we’re focused on other people, we can’t focus on ourselves as much. You can’t be brooding on that nasty e-mail you got from the stepmother who doesn’t want you to cook turkey, or whatever.

“A lot of us just need to be distracted from ourselves sometimes,” Carter said.

Dacher Keltner, founder of the center and a UC Berkeley psychology professor, said his research on the vagus nerve in the brain is reinforcing the importance of compassion.

The vagus nerve extends from the brain down to the abdomen, and it reflects and stimulates feelings of happiness. Dacher’s research with doctoral candidate Craig Anderson indicates that showing compassion, maintaining eye contact and taking time to relax with techniques such as taking a deep breath all result in a healthily stimulated vagus – which in turn makes you happier.

“We know that December is one of the most violent months on the calendar, and there is stress this time of year with travel and getting together with family,” Keltner said. “But there is rock-solid science that shows that, instead of moving toward stress, you can move toward appreciating other people and feeling calmer at this time of year.”

Connect to others

He said his center has found that people are less connected to their neighbors and have fewer friends than 20 years ago, and that counteracting that trend is useful for Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year bliss.

“If you volunteer, look more closely to people who support you, allow yourself to touch people you care about with hugs or even just a neck massage – it all helps,” Keltner said. “Also, watch how you breathe – taking deep breaths when you need to, really do help calm you down.”

Carter is well aware that the reaction to feel-good advice can at times be more a rolling of the eyes rather than a nod of the head. That’s understandable, she said.

Letting yourself enjoy the holidays, let alone your entire life, can take a bit of concentration and work, she said. But it’s worth it.

“I think of happiness as a skill,” said Carter, whose seemingly perpetual incandescent smile would indicate that she takes her own advice. “It’s all about what you practice and think about.”

29 September 2011 ‘Meditation can counter neurological diseases’

Sep 24, 2011
Daily News & Analysis

Meditation, spirituality and a proper diet could be just the panacea for neurological diseases, said renowned Jaipur-based neurologist, Dr Ashok Panagariya.

Panagariya was delivering a lecture on ‘Living larger, living happier: A journey from clinical neurology to the complexities of brain and mind’ at the 19th annual conference of the Indian Academy of Neurology (IAN) held at city-based Marriott Hotel and convention centre on Friday. Panagariya, who is the head of department of neurology, SMS Medical College, Jaipur, is also the president of IAN. In his interesting lecture, Panagariya explained how individuals could relax their minds and function amid stressful conditions of life to keep neurological diseases at bay.

According to the doctor, increasing stress coupled with smoking and drinking habits of people has given rise to diabetes and hypertension that in turn has given rise to neurological diseases. “However, science is probing how individuals can control their minds to become stress-free and prevent and cure diseases,” Panagariya said.

Citing examples of Valmiki, Kalidasa and others, Panagariya described how an individual can anchor his mind through meditation and spirituality to live a healthy life.

“Spirituality and meditation strengthens several important parts of the brain. These regions are associated with the emotions that a person feels. Besides yoga, music, playing golf and bridge, reading and meditation stimulates relaxation and pleasure and reduces stress,” the doctor said.

Speaking to DNA, Panagariya said, “Though medication is essential, studies have proved that every fifth human being is still succumbing despite medicines. Hence, it is important to explore paths beyond medicines for prevention and cure of diseases.”

17 August 2011 45 Benefits of Meditation

by Dane
TheHappySelf.com

 

Ok ok…I’m sure by now you have read about meditation in a number of places.

But is meditation really for you and WHY should you even sit down and shut up?

Let me explain…

Meditation has been used for centuries as a method for relaxation, improving health, and finding mental clarity.  With so many benefits, it’s no wonder that it is used in cultures all over the world.

It’s hard to believe that something that looks so much like sitting around doing nothing is really doing quite a lot for your mind, body, and spirit.  However, it has been found that as little as ten minutes of meditation a day can bring about significant positive changes.

Here are 45 reasons why you need to start meditating …

  1. Allows for healthier flow of oxygen to the brain, which means clearer thinking and better reasoning skills.
  2. Better blood flow to the muscles also helps with physical stamina so you are able to exercise more easily and for longer periods.
  3. The controlled breathing of meditation translates into slower respiration and a decrease in asthma attacks and other breathing issues.
  4. Deepens religious/spiritual devotion and understanding.
  5. Meditation actually relaxes the nervous system, leading to a decrease in multiple stress-induced reactions.
  6. It also lowers your heart rate to a healthier level.
  7. The act of meditating, as well as the meditative exercises themselves, creates a more self-actualized individual.
  8. Doesn’t have negative physical side effects, as do anti-anxiety medications.
  9. Develops emotional maturity as one learns to be calm in the face of drama.
  10. Increases the release of serotonin in the brain, a chemical that improves mood and makes one feel good naturally.
  11. Helps prevent panic attacks in those who suffer from anxiety disorders.
  12. Meditation can be used to improve memory and the ability to learn new things.
  13. Those who meditate are able to see the big picture in order to solve complex problems.
  14. The relaxing effects of meditation lead to less aggressive behavior in individuals.
  15. Helps with the process required to break bad habits and addictions such as smoking, drinking, and using drugs.
  16. Slows down the racing thoughts that often keep people distracted and awake at night.  In general, those who meditate find that they fall asleep easily.
  17. Helps to normalize blood pressure.
  18. Meditative exercises lead to a higher level of attention and empathy throughout the day.
  19. Offers an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of oneself.
  20. Improves physical and mental reaction time during stressful situations.
  21. Can be a solitary act that requires no outside influence, including money.
  22. Allows an individual to feel a sense of connection to everything and everyone, increasing the personal capacity for love and acceptance.
  23. Through meditation, one is able to develop aspects of his or her character, such as will power and inner strength.
  24. Increases patience in those who practice, as they are less agitated and are even able to engage in meditation at times (like waiting in lines) when others would become annoyed.
  25. Keeps mental faculties sharp and slows down the effects of age on the brain.
  26. Meditators shift brain activity to less stress-prone areas of the brain, decreasing the negative effects of mild stress, depression, and anxiety.
  27. Ability to release negative emotions, rather than allowing them to become one’s focus.
  28. An improvement in physical posture results from holding one’s body appropriately, practicing breathing, and even from an increased sense of self confidence.
  29. The physical benefits of meditation include a decrease in physical pain, especially for chronic pain sufferers.
  30. Brings an opportunity to simplify one’s life, whether it means quieting some inner turmoil or recognizing the need for less material goods.
  31. It is common for those who meditate to discover a significant increase in their energy levels.
  32. Lessens the severity of physical and emotional symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome and other stress factors.
  33. Helps increase the overall amount lost during one’s weight-loss program due to a lowering of cortisol, as well as other factors.
  34. Those who meditate regularly benefit from lower levels of heart disease.
  35. Restores the body to a calm state once the flight or fight reflex has been triggered by an environmental stressor.
  36. Boosts an individual’s immune system to help ward off physical ailments and diseases.
  37. Increases creative output as the left and right hemispheres of the brain communicate more effectively and the mind is filled with less clutter and better able to focus in new directions.
  38. Can be used in conjunction with other forms of medicine or therapy to enhance physical and mental outcomes.
  39. Breathing is slowed for more efficient use of oxygen and a decreased waste of energy.
  40. Improves one’s ability to “live in the present” rather than always fretting over future desires or past regrets.
  41. Improves the ability to recognize one’s own thoughts and thought patterns, thereby allowing for self-reflection, acknowledgement, and even change.
  42. Removes obstacles preventing individuals from succeeding, specifically by making them clear to the individual so he or she can make appropriate changes on the path to success.
  43. Strengthens the digestive system for improved overall health and wellness of the body.
  44. Decreases tension within the muscles of the body, resulting not only in better relaxation, but also a lower likelihood of sustaining an injury.
  45. Hand-eye coordination increases within individuals who practice meditation.

In 2003, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School conducted a research study regarding the effects of meditation on highly-stressed employees at a high-tech company.  The resulting brain scans showed that those employees who had been taught to meditate experienced a transfer in their brain activity into the joy and happiness center in the left frontal lobe of the brain.

Studies like this one are getting more and more companies, as well as individuals, thinking about the benefits of meditation and what the practice could mean for them.  From increased productivity and job satisfaction to better relationships among employees, there are some real reasons to consider meditation in the workplace.

Of course, all of these benefits can be extended to everyday life, too, so considering meditation just for job purposes is too narrow of a focus.  Instead, think of how you could gain physically, emotionally, and spiritually by incorporating a few minutes of this deep relaxation into your daily schedule.

Thousands of years’ worth of evidence shows pretty conclusively that those who practice meditation are both happier and healthier overall.  Not bad for something that requires no money, no equipment, and only a few minutes a day.

What are you waiting for?

7 August 2011 Meditation stronger than morphine and drugs

EMZscience
Aug 3, 2011

Meditation can have pain reliefing effects much greater than even morphine, one of the strongest drugs, according to a recent study.

We are only beginning to understand the deep effects that meditation has on our bodies, and researchers are baffled, to say the least. It calms and relieves pain with unbelievable efficiency, reducing the pain by more than half, and also providing long term results.

“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,” said Dr Fadel Zeidan, lead author at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.

For this study, 15 volunteers who have never meditated before attended four 20 minute classes where they were thought how to meditate using a technique called focused attention. Mind you, ordinary people with only 80 minutes of training. Both before and after this training, their brain was monitored using a special type of imaging called arterial spin labelling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI).

For the purpose of this study, a pain inducing stimulae was applied on the volunteers, and the results showed that the amount of pain was reduced by approximately half after the meditation. The research also showed that meditation increased brain activity in areas including the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbito-frontal cortex.

“We found a big effect – about a 40 per cent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 per cent reduction in pain unpleasantness,” said Dr Zeiden. “Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 per cent.”

Of course, the advantages of such a technique are numerous: it’s easy to learn, free, offers tremendous pain relief, non invasive, and also has other benefits.

15 July 2011 Meditation slows down age-related brain atrophy

The times of India

Researchers at UCLA had earlier found that specific regions in the brains of long-term meditators were larger and had more grey matter than the brains of individuals in a control group.

Now, a follow-up study has suggested that people who meditate also have stronger connections between brain regions and show less age-related brain atrophy.

Having stronger connections influences the ability to rapidly relay electrical signals in the brain. And significantly, these effects are evident throughout the entire brain, not just in specific areas.

Eileen Luders, a visiting assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues found that the differences between meditators and controls are not confined to a particular core region of the brain but involve large-scale networks that include the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes and the anterior corpus callosum, as well as limbic structures and the brain stem.

“Our results suggest that long-term meditators have white-matter fibers that are either more numerous, more dense or more insulated throughout the brain,” said Luders.

“We also found that the normal age-related decline of white-matter tissue is considerably reduced in active meditation practitioners,” added Luders.

The study consisted of 27 active meditation practitioners (average age 52) and 27 control subjects. Results showed pronounced structural connectivity in meditators throughout the entire brain’s pathways.

“It is possible that actively meditating, especially over a long period of time, can induce changes on a micro-anatomical level,” said Luders.

As a consequence, she said, the robustness of fiber connections in meditators may increase and possibly lead to the macroscopic effects seen by DTI.

“Meditation, however, might not only cause changes in brain anatomy by inducing growth but also by preventing reduction,” said Luders.

“That is, if practiced regularly and over years, meditation may slow down aging-related brain atrophy, perhaps by positively affecting the immune system,” added Luders.

The study is detailed in the online edition of the journal NeuroImage.

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