Meditation against cognitive decline

December 2, 2013

Meditation against cognitive decline

New research suggests that Meditation may slow progression to Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study, made by Harvard Medical School in Boston, those who received mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy for 8 weeks had a greater increase in functional connectivity between brain regions (the posterior cingulate cortex, the bilateral medial prefrontal cortex and the left hippocampus) related to mild cognitive impairment than those who received usual care. Also there was “a trend” toward less bilateral hippocampus volume atrophy. This study suggests that an intervention with meditation and yoga may impact the areas of the brain that are most susceptible to developing dementia. The investigators note that patients with high stress levels are at increased risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s, and more than 50% of those will go on to develop dementia within 5 years.

So meditation may reduce stress and modified  the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for emotions, learning, and memory.

All participants also underwent resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at baseline and at the 8-week mark to measure connectivity changes in areas of the hippocampus area.

Results showed that this group had a significantly greater increase in functional connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex, the bilateral medial prefrontal cortex and the left hippocampus.

If some component of cognitive decline is a function of stress-induced hippocampus  changes, then meditation may impact the hippocampus as a stress-reducing technique thereby improving cognitive reserve.

This study provides preliminary evidence that an intervention with limited side effects may be of potential benefit to patients with few other options for improvement. So even if meditation did nothing to the hippocampus structure, it may help to reduce the symptom burden of the illness as a whole.

This would account for the social contact that happens during meditation training. One of the most important challenges we have in our research is how we design the control condition that we’re comparing everything to.”

This research overall examine the effects of meditation on the brain’s response to emotional stimuli. We know that stress response and inflammation have an impact on chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer’s.

When the hippocampus atrophies, it may lead to inappropriate regulation of the stress response systems, which can then further the illness process. So it was very interesting that meditation had an impact, or at least a trend, on hippocampal volume in these folks with  mild cognitive impairment.