Increases grey matter density in Parkinson’s patients

Pickut, B. A., et al. (2013). Mindfulness Based Intervention in Parkinson’s disease leads to structural brain changes on MRI. A randomized controlled longitudinal trial. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery. Epub ahead of print.

From the Abstract: Fourteen patients participated in a structured eight-week program of Mindfulness-based Intervention (MBI). Thirteen patients received usual care alone. MRI data sets of the brain were obtained at baseline and after eight weeks follow-up.

To the best of our knowledge this is the first quantitative analysis of neurobiological effects of MBI in Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Increased grey matter density was found in the MBI group in the neural networks that have been postulated to play an important role in PD. These areas have also been implicated in the functional networks mediating the benefits of meditation.

Increases gray matter concentration

Hölzel, B.K., et al. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research, 191 (1), 36-43. Full text (unedited manuscript).

From the Abstract: Therapeutic interventions that incorporate training in mindfulness meditation have become increasingly popular, but to date little is known about neural mechanisms associated with these interventions. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs, has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being and to ameliorate symptoms of a number of disorders.

Here, we report a controlled longitudinal study to investigate pre-post changes in brain gray matter concentration attributable to participation in an MBSR program. Anatomical magnetic resonance (MR) images from 16 healthy, meditation-naïve participants were obtained before and after they underwent the 8-week program.

Changes in gray matter concentration were investigated using voxel-based morphometry, and compared with a waiting list control group of 17 individuals. Analyses in a priori regions of interest confirmed increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus. Whole brain analyses identified increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared with the controls.

The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

May boost neural basis of empathy

Excerpt from ScienceDaily (Oct. 4, 2012). A compassion-based meditation program can significantly improve a person’s ability to read the facial expressions of others, finds a study published by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. This boost in empathic accuracy was detected through both behavioral testing of the study participants and through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brain activity.

… The meditation protocol, known as Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, or CBCT, … [is] derived from ancient Tibetan Buddhist practices, [but] secular in content and presentation. … When most people think of meditation, they think of a style known as “mindfulness,” in which practitioners seek to improve their ability to concentrate and to be non-judgmentally aware of their thoughts and feelings. While CBCT includes these mindfulness elements, the practice focuses more specifically on training people to analyze and reinterpret their relationships with others.

Reduces the experience of pain

Meditation produces powerful pain-relieving effects in the brain, according to new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Read more.

“This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “We found a big effect — about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.”