Associated with Structural Changes in Brain
images show thickening of attention-related areas, potential reduction
of aging effects
practice of meditation appears to produce structural changes in areas
of the brain associated with attention and sensory processing. An
imaging study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) 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 practiced in the U.S. and other Western
countries. The article appears in the Nov. 15 issue of NeuroReport,
and the research also is being presented Nov. 14 at the Society for
Neuroscience meeting in Washington, DC.
results suggest that meditation can produce experience-based structural
alterations in the brain," says 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 aging-related
atrophy of certain areas of the brain."
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 practiced mediation as a central focus of their lives.
investigate whether meditation as typically practiced 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, nonjudgmental awareness
of sensations, feelings and state of mind. They averaged nine years
of mediation experience and practiced about six hours per week.
For comparison, 15 people with no experience of meditation or yoga
were enrolled as controls.
standard 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
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," says 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,
study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health,
the MIND Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Co-authors are Rachel Wasserman, Doug Greve, PhD, Michael Treadway,
Brian Quinn, Scott Rauch, MD, and Bruce Fischl, PhD, of the MGH;
Catherine Kerr, PhD, Harvard Medical School; Jeremy Gray, PhD, Yale
University; Metta McGarvey, Harvard Graduate School of Education;
Jeffery Dusek, PhD, and Herbert Benson, MD, Beth Israel Deaconess
Medical Center and Mind/Body Medical Institute; and Christopher
Moore, PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and McGovern Institute
for Brain Research.
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