Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital studied changes in brain structure due to meditation by following 16 study participants engaged in an 8-week mindfulness program. Magnetic resonance images were taken of the participants’ brain structures two weeks before and two weeks after their mindfulness meditation training program. The same type of brain images were taken of a control group of people who did not engage in meditation over a similar period of time. The meditators spent an average 27 minutes a day in their mindfulness sessions, which they were required to document using questionnaires.
When the magnetic resonance brain images were analyzed, an increase of grey matter was found in the hippocampus of the meditators. This part of the brain is thought to be involved in memory, spatial navigation, learning and stress. (Disruption of the hippocampus may be connected with Alzheimer’s.)
“This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing,” said Sara Lazar, PhD, who worked on the study. (Source: sciencedaily.com)
While the study was focused on possible brain function and elasticity, there was some indication from one of the lead researchers that their insights might be useful in the context of improving health conditions. “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.” (Source: sciencedaily.com)
Meditation has been studied as a way of reducing stress, but does it have any potential for actually reducing memory loss from Alzheimer’s? The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation says yes, it is possible for meditation to reduce the negative effects from the disease using meditation, but there needs to be more research conducted.
A 2009 study explored the effects of Kirtan Kriya, a type of chanting meditation, on the brain. “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.” (Source: ARPF) This meditation style has been shown to have positive effects with just 12 minutes a day.
Image Credit: Sarvodaya Shramadana