Neurobiological effects of meditation and mindfulness

Esch, T. (2014). The Neurobiology of Meditation and Mindfulness. In Meditation–Neuroscientific Approaches and Philosophical Implications (pp. 153-173). Springer International Publishing. Summary of book chapter

Neurobiological effects of meditation and mindfulness can be detected in the brain as functional and also structural alterations in grey and white matter, particularly in areas related to attention and memory, interoception and sensory processing, or self- and auto-regulation (including control of stress and emotions). On the molecular level, dopamine and melatonin are found to increase, serotonin activity is modulated, and cortisol as well as norepinephrine have been proven to decrease.

These findings are reflected in functional and structural changes documented by imaging techniques such as fMRI or EEG. They may be relevant for medicine and health care, especially with reference to therapeutic strategies for behavior change and life-style modification, or in association with stress regulation and the treatment of addiction. Neuronal mechanisms of mindfulness can be divided into four areas: attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation and self-perception.

See also: How meditation can reshape our brain. TED talk by neuroscientist Sara Lazar. Her brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.

Influence of melatonin on breast and prostate tumors

Coker, K. K. (1998). Meditation and prostate cancer: integrating a mind/body intervention with traditional therapies. Seminars in Urologic Oncology, 17 (2), 111-118.

Abstract: There is growing attention to the health benefits of mind/body interventions, particularly relaxation and meditation. Biomedical research has provided undeniable evidence of the interconnectedness of the mind and body. The field of psychoneuroimmunology has defined the role of stress in reducing effectiveness of the immune system in combating infection and growth of malignant tumors.

This article explains the development of meditation practice and explores the indications that the practice of meditation is effective reducing the harmful effects of stress. In addition, there are encouraging reports of studies citing the influence of melatonin on breast and prostate tumors. A preliminary study finds an association between meditation practice and levels of melatonin produced by the pineal gland.