Did You Know…
…mindfulness meditation may help reduce inflammation and associated disease risks?
Numerous studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can help reduce stress, depression, PTSD, HIV progression, multiple sclerosis symptoms, and brain atrophy. A study published January 29, 2016 in the journal Biological Psychiatry suggests that mindfulness mediation may also help lower inflammation, thereby protecting against inflammation-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and diabetes.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is a Buddhist form of meditation that involves fixing your attention on the present moment. One technique of choice is to focus on the inhalation and exhalation of your breath, and when your thoughts wander to the past, to the future, or to those moments in between, to acknowledge them and then redirect your concentration back to your breath.
Practicing mindfulness goes beyond mere meditation. Mindfulness is an approach to life that incorporates bringing awareness to experiences, circumstances, and interactions with others in a non-judgmental way. That means letting your emotions come and go without attachment. Acknowledging your feelings, and then releasing them without becoming enmeshed in drama and reactivity. When you practice mindfulness, it becomes easier to redirect negative thoughts in a positive direction.
How Meditation Can Lower Inflammation
Carnegie Mellon researchers separated 35 unemployed, stressed-out individuals into two groups. One group took a 3-day mindfulness meditation retreat, while the other group took a 3-day relaxation retreat. All aspects of the retreats were the same, except for the meditation and mindfulness components.
During the mindfulness mediation retreat, participants took part in a type of mindfulness meditation modeled from expert practitioner Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. They participated in instructor-led guided meditations, learned breathing exercises, mindful movement, and mindful eating techniques, and conducted body scans that directed focus onto specific parts of the body.
To measure the effects on inflammation researchers took blood samples before and four months after the retreat. Researchers also took 5-minute resting-state brain scans before and after the retreat. Test results showed that those in the mindfulness meditation group had lower levels of interleukin 6 (a marker of inflammation). Mindfulness meditation was able to lower interleukin 6 by changing the patterns of communication between different regions of the brain, a process called functional connectivity.
Carnegie Mellon researcher, Adrienne Taren, MD/PhD, told Reset.com: “By modulating functional connectivity, you’re affecting the cell groups that influence the release of inflammatory markers and stress hormones.”
Researchers chose to make the relaxation group the control group so that the only variable between the two groups was meditation. Relaxation works short-term to relieve stress, while mindfulness meditation promotes long-term stress reduction by providing everyday tools to manage stressors. Taren explains, “In general, in people who practice mindfulness, you see decreased activity in the amygdala—that stress-responsive, fight-or-flight region. And then conversely, after meditation sessions and in people who meditate [regularly], you see a more functional prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for your higher-order executive functions.”
How to Start Mindfulness Meditation Now
You can start benefiting from meditation immediately by taking 5 to 10 minutes a day to simply relax in a seated position on a cushion or chair, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. Try to commit to at least a 2-week daily practice to see if meditation grows on you. Who knows? You may find yourself meditating for much longer than intended!