Much of the health benefits associated with mindful meditation training is due to the changes that this form of meditation causes in the brain, suggests new research. In mindful meditation people make a conscious, focused practice of attending to their current state and sensations.
"We have now seen that mindful meditation training can reduce inflammatory biomarkers in several initial studies, and this new work sheds light into what mindfulness training is doing to the brain to produce these inflammatory health benefits," said lead author David Creswell, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, US.
Published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, the new study showed that mindfulness meditation training, compared to relaxation training, reduces Interleukin-6, an inflammatory health biomarker, in high-stress, unemployed community adults.
For the randomised controlled trial, 35 job-seeking, stressed adults were exposed to either an intensive three-day mindfulness meditation retreat programme or a well-matched relaxation retreat programme that did not have a mindfulness component.
All participants completed a five-minute resting state brain scan before and after the three-day programme. They also provided blood samples right before the intervention began and at a four-month follow-up.
The brain scans showed that mindful meditation training increased the functional connectivity of the participants' resting default mode network in areas important to attention and executive control, namely the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Participants who received the relaxation training did not show these brain changes.
The participants who completed the mindfulness meditation program also had reduced IL-6 levels, and the changes in brain functional connectivity coupling accounted for the lower inflammation levels.
"We think that these brain changes provide a neurobiological marker for improved executive control and stress resilience, such that mindfulness meditation training improves your brain's ability to help you manage stress, and these changes improve a broad range of stress-related health outcomes, such as your inflammatory health," Creswell said