Improve Mental Health and Blood Biomarker Levels with Meditation and Yoga

Improve Mental Health and Blood Biomarker Levels with Meditation and Yoga

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The main purpose of meditation is to access, recognize and enhance the positive qualities of mind. The more we can do this, the less we need to rely on external situations for our happiness and the more we can rely on the natural, positive qualities of mind: love, contentment, well-being and peace.” – Trinlay Rinpoche

 

Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mental, physical, and spiritual life. Mindfulness appears to be beneficial both for healthy people and for people suffering from a myriad of mental and physical illnesses. It appears to be beneficial across ages, from children to the elderly. And it appears to be beneficial across genders, personalities, race, and ethnicity. The breadth and depth of benefits is unprecedented. There is no other treatment or practice that has been shown to come anyway near the range of mindfulness’ positive benefits.

 

It is not known exactly how mindfulness training produces these benefits. It is possible that one mechanism is by altering blood bourn hormonal levels. In today’s Research News article “Inner Engineering Practices and Advanced 4-day Isha Yoga Retreat Are Associated with Cannabimimetic Effects with Increased Endocannabinoids and Short-Term and Sustained Improvement in Mental Health: A Prospective Observational Study of Meditators.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7293737/ ) Sadhasivam and colleagues recruited healthy adults and had them attend a 4-day intensive training in yoga and meditation. Before and after the training and 1 month later they were measured for mindfulness, happiness, anxiety, depression, and psychological well-being. They also drew blood before and after training and assayed it for the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and the biomarkers of Endocannabinoids, (anandamide, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), 1-arachidonoylglycerol (1-AG), docosatetraenoylethanolamide (DEA), and oleoylethanolamide (OLA)).

 

They found that after the training there were significant decreases in anxiety and depression and significant increases in mindfulness, happiness, and psychological well-being. These changes were maintained at the 1-month follow-up. There were also significant increases in all of the blood biomarkers of Endocannabinoids and also brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

 

It should be kept in mind that this was a pilot study that did not have a control, comparison, condition. So, the results might have been due to a number of confounding factors rather than the training itself. But previous controlled research has convincingly demonstrated that mindfulness training increases happiness, and psychological well-being and decreases anxiety and depression. So, these changes were likely due to the training.

 

There were also novel findings in the present study that Endocannabinoids and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) were significantly increased by the training. These provide objective measures of the subjective reports of psychological improvements. Endocannabinoids in the blood are associated with positive mood states. BDNF is a neurotrophic factor that is thought to signal neuroplastic changes in the nervous system. Mindfulness training has been previously shown to produce neuroplastic changes in the brain. So, the increases in these biomarkers indicate that the training not only improves the psychological health of the participants but also alters the brain, perhaps making the improvements longer lasting. This suggests a potential mechanism for the ability of meditation and yoga to improve mood, by increasing hormones that improve mood.

 

So, improve mental health and blood biomarker levels with meditation and yoga.

 

The more you practice invoking states of well-being, the more available they are. Use the following practice to teach your mind and body to experience joy in the moment. As you invite happiness into your life in this way, you will have more access to a joyful life.” – Yoga Journal

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Sadhasivam, S., Alankar, S., Maturi, R., Vishnubhotla, R. V., Mudigonda, M., Pawale, D., Narayanan, S., Hariri, S., Ram, C., Chang, T., Renschler, J., Eckert, G., & Subramaniam, B. (2020). Inner Engineering Practices and Advanced 4-day Isha Yoga Retreat Are Associated with Cannabimimetic Effects with Increased Endocannabinoids and Short-Term and Sustained Improvement in Mental Health: A Prospective Observational Study of Meditators. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2020, 8438272. https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/8438272

 

Abstract

Background

Anxiety and depression are common in the modern world, and there is growing demand for alternative therapies such as meditation. Meditation can decrease perceived stress and increase general well-being, although the physiological mechanism is not well-characterized. Endocannabinoids (eCBs), lipid mediators associated with enhanced mood and reduced anxiety/depression, have not been previously studied as biomarkers of meditation effects. Our aim was to assess biomarkers (eCBs and brain-derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF]) and psychological parameters after a meditation retreat.

Methods

This was an observational pilot study of adults before and after the 4-day Isha Yoga Bhava Spandana Program retreat. Participants completed online surveys (before and after retreat, and 1 month later) to assess anxiety, depression, focus, well-being, and happiness through validated psychological scales. Voluntary blood sampling for biomarker studies was done before and within a day after the retreat. The biomarkers anandamide, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), 1-arachidonoylglycerol (1-AG), docosatetraenoylethanolamide (DEA), oleoylethanolamide (OLA), and BDNF were evaluated. Primary outcomes were changes in psychological scales, as well as changes in eCBs and BDNF.

Results

Depression and anxiety scores decreased while focus, happiness, and positive well-being scores increased immediately after retreat from their baseline values (P < 0.001). All improvements were sustained 1 month after BSP. All major eCBs including anandamide, 2-AG, 1-AG, DEA, and BDNF increased after meditation by > 70% (P < 0.001). Increases of ≥20% in anandamide, 2-AG, 1-AG, and total AG levels after meditation from the baseline had weak correlations with changes in happiness and well-being.

Conclusions

A short meditation experience improved focus, happiness, and positive well-being and reduced depression and anxiety in participants for at least 1 month. Participants had increased blood eCBs and BDNF, suggesting a role for these biomarkers in the underlying mechanism of meditation. Meditation is a simple, organic, and effective way to improve well-being and reduce depression and anxiety.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7293737/

 

Improve Glucose and Lipid Metabolism with Tai Chi

Improve Glucose and Lipid Metabolism with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Tai Chi exercises can improve blood glucose levels and improve the control of type 2 diabetes and immune system response.” – Anna McKenney

 

Diet and exercise are the typical recommendation to improve glucose and lipid metabolism for the treatment and prevention of a number of metabolic disorders. Alternatives to classical exercise programs are Tai and Qigong practices. They have been practiced for thousands of years with benefits for health and longevity. Tai Chi training is designed to enhance function and regulate the activities of the body through regulated breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements.

 

Recently the effects of Tai Chi practice been scrutinized with empirical research. It has been found to be effective for an array of physical and psychological issues. It appears to strengthen the immune systemreduce inflammationincrease the number of cancer killing cells in the bloodstream and improve cardiovascular function. In addition, they appear to be effective in improving blood glucose and lipid metabolism. Because Tai Chi is not strenuous, involving slow gentle movements, and is safe, having no appreciable side effects, it is appropriate for all ages including the elderly and for individuals with illnesses that limit their activities or range of motion. But most studies of Tai Chi benefits have employed lengthy practices. The acute, immediate, effects of a session of Tai Chi have not been well investigated.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effect of a Single Session of Tai Chi Chuan Practice on Glucose and Lipid Metabolism and Related Hormones.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7460509/ ) Lu and colleagues recruited healthy adults over 50 years of age who were Tai Chi practitioners and a group of non-practitioners who were equivalent in age, gender, and body size. The Tai Chi group performed one 40-minute Tai Chi practice while the control group rested for 40 minutes. They obtained blood samples from both groups before and after their sessions and measured them for total cholesterol, blood glucose, insulin, insulin resistance, insulin sensitivity, and endothelin-1 (ET-1, a vasoconstrictor).

 

They found that at baseline, before practice, the Tai Chi group in comparison to the control group at rest had significantly lower levels of total cholesterol, insulin, insulin resistance, while insulin sensitivity was significantly higher. In comparison to the control group the Tai Chi group had a significantly greater percentage increases from baseline in blood glucose, insulin, and insulin resistance and a significantly larger percentage decreases in total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, insulin sensitivity, and endothelin-1 (ET-1).

 

These are interesting results that must be tempered with the understanding that the control condition was not active. So, the changes seen after Tai Chi practice may have been due to exercise effects rather than performing Tai Chi itself. Indeed, the results on the immediate acute effects of Tai Chi practice on glucose and lipid metabolism are complicated and difficult to interpret. This may be due to the lack of an active control, comparison, condition, revealing the effects of activity vs. rest rather than effects specific to Tai Chi.

 

But the baseline results are not contaminated and they suggest that the practice of Tai Chi produces a general improvement in glucose and fat metabolism that is present even without immediate practice. This suggests that Tai Chi practice improves the overall physiological health of the practitioners. This would lead to lower likelihood of diabetes or cardiovascular disease and improvements in the diseases if present. Indeed Tai Chi practice has been found to be beneficial, improving symptoms, for people with diabetes and also cardiovascular disease.

 

So, improve glucose and lipid metabolism with Tai Chi.

 

Diet and exercise are the cornerstone of diabetes management. People with diabetes who exercise regularly have better control over their blood glucose levels and fewer complications such as heart disease and stroke. Many people, however, are unable to keep up with their regular exercise because they either don’t enjoy it, or have a problem finding time to exercise. Tai chi offers a major advantage: It’s enjoyable, and to many, it’s almost addictive.” – Paul Lam

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Lu, W. A., Chen, Y. S., Wang, C. H., & Kuo, C. D. (2020). Effect of a Single Session of Tai Chi Chuan Practice on Glucose and Lipid Metabolism and Related Hormones. Life (Basel, Switzerland), 10(8), 145. https://doi.org/10.3390/life10080145

 

Abstract

Background: To examine the effect of Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) practice on glucose and lipid metabolism and related hormones in TCC practitioners. Methods: Twenty-one TCC practitioners and nineteen healthy controls were included in this study. Classical Yang’s TCC was practiced by the TCC practitioners. The percentage changes in serum total cholesterol (TC), high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C), serum glucose (SG), serum insulin, serum insulin level, homeostatic model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR), log(HOMA-IR), quantitative insulin sensitivity check index (QUICKI), and serum endothelin-1 (ET-1) before and 30 min after resting or TCC practice were compared between healthy controls and TCC practitioners. Results: Before TCC or resting, the serum insulin level, HOMA-IR, and log(HOMA-IR) of the TCC practitioners were significantly lower than those of healthy subjects, whereas the QUICKI of the TCC practitioners was significantly higher than that of healthy subjects. Thirty min after TCC practice, the %TC, %HDL-C, %QUICKI, and %ET-1 were all significantly decreased, whereas the %SG, %serum insulin, and %HOMA-IR were significantly increased in the TCC group as compared to the control group 30 min after resting. Conclusions: The serum glucose, insulin level and insulin resistance were enhanced, whereas the cholesterol, HDL-C and ET-1 levels were reduced 30 min after TCC practice. The mechanism underlying these effects of TCC 30 min after TCC is not clear yet.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7460509/

 

Mindfulness-Based Forest Therapy Programs Promote Well-Being in Middle-Aged Women

Mindfulness-Based Forest Therapy Programs Promote Well-Being in Middle-Aged Women

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” John Muir

 

Modern living is stressful, perhaps, in part because it has divorced us from the natural world that our species was immersed in throughout its evolutionary history. Modern environments may be damaging to our health and well-being simply because the species did not evolve to cope with them. This suggests that returning to nature, at least occasionally, may be beneficial. Indeed, researchers are beginning to study nature walks or what the Japanese call “Forest Bathing” and their effects on our mental and physical health.

 

Mindfulness practices have been found routinely to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. People have long reported that walking in nature elevates their mood. It appears intuitively obvious that if it occurred in a beautiful natural place, it would greatly lift the spirits. But there is little systematic research regarding these effects. It’s possible that being in nature might improve mental and physical well-being.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of Forest Therapy on Health Promotion among Middle-Aged Women: Focusing on Physiological Indicators.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7344639/ ) Park and colleagues recruited middle aged women (40-64 years) and provided them with a 3-day program of  meditation, yoga, body scan, and walking in the environment. The participants experienced the program twice, once in a forested environment and once in a city environment in counterbalanced order.

 

Before and after each program blood was drawn and assayed for serotonin and vitamin D levels. They found that after the forest program but not the urban program there was a significant increase in serotonin levels in the blood while after the urban program but not the forest program there was a significant decrease in vitamin D levels.

 

Low serotonin levels are associated with negative mental health including depression and anxiety, while high serotonin levels are associated with positive mental health and happiness. Hence the results suggest that participating in mindfulness training in a forested environment improves mental health in middle aged women while participating in the same program in an urban setting does not. On the other hand, vitamin D levels are associated with immune function which when low makes the individual more susceptible to disease. Hence, lower vitamin D levels may be considered an indicator of poorer physical health. Participating in mindfulness training in an urban environment was associated with lower vitamin D levels while participating in the forest environment was not.

 

These results suggest that forested environments are conducive to better mental health while urban environments make the individua more susceptible to disease. It has been previously established that natural environments improve mental health, including improvements in psychological, social, and physical well-being. The current findings add to this developing body of research suggesting that “Forest Bathing” improves well-being.

 

So, mindfulness-based forest therapy programs promote well-being in middle-aged women.

 

There is a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of investing time under the canopy of a living forest.” – Ian Barnyard

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Park, B. J., Shin, C. S., Shin, W. S., Chung, C. Y., Lee, S. H., Kim, D. J., Kim, Y. H., & Park, C. E. (2020). Effects of Forest Therapy on Health Promotion among Middle-Aged Women: Focusing on Physiological Indicators. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(12), 4348. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17124348

 

Abstract

Women experience more stress in middle age than in other life stages, and health in middle age is vital, because it influences the quality of life in old age. In this study, the effects of a forest therapy program on physiological changes in 53 middle-aged women (divided into two groups) who lived in the city were examined. One group participated in a three-day program in the forest, followed by three days in the city; the other group participated in a three-day program in the city, followed by three days in the forest. Forest experiments were conducted in a “healing forest,” and urban experiments were conducted near a university campus. Blood tests were performed to evaluate the physiological effects of forest therapy. Differences in serotonin levels and vitamin D levels were verified before and after the forest (experimental group) and urban (control group) programs through paired t-tests. Statistically significant increases in serotonin levels were noted for participants in the forest program; vitamin D levels also increased, but not by statistically significant values. The findings of this study verify that forest therapy programs promote health among middle-aged women, and may prevent disease and improve quality of life.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7344639/