Improve Tinnitus by Changing the Brain with Mindfulness

Improve Tinnitus by Changing the Brain with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

The mindfulness approach is radically different from what most tinnitus sufferers have tried before, and it may not be right for everyone. We are confident, however, that the growing research base has demonstrated how it can offer an exciting new treatment to people who may have found that traditional treatment has not been able to help them yet.” – Liz Marks

 

Tinnitus is one of the most common symptoms to affect humanity. People with tinnitus live with a phantom noise that can range from a low hiss or ringing to a loud roar or squeal which can be present constantly or intermittently. It can have a significant impact on people’s ability to hear, concentrate, or even participate in everyday activities. Approximately 25 million to 50 million people in the United States experience it to some degree. Approximately 16 million people seek medical attention for their tinnitus, and for up to two million patients, debilitating tinnitus interferes with their daily lives.

 

There are a number of treatments for tinnitus including, counseling, sound therapy, drugs, and even brain stimulation. Unfortunately, none of these treatments is very effective. Mindfulness practices have been shown to be effective in treating Tinnitus. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. It is unknown how mindfulness practices may change the brain to improve tinnitus.

 

In today’s Research News article “Functional Brain Changes During Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Associated With Tinnitus Severity.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6667657/), Zimmerman and colleagues recruited adult participants in an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program consisting of 2-hour weekly sessions and 40-60 minutes daily home practice. The MBCT program consists of mindfulness training and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). During therapy the patient is trained to investigate and alter aberrant thought patterns underlying their reactions to tinnitus symptoms. The participants brains were scanned before and after the MBCT program, and at follow-up 8 weeks later with functional Magnetic resonance Imaging (fMRI) and were measured for tinnitus, anxiety, depression, and mindfulness.

 

They found that the MBCT program produced a significant reduction in tinnitus symptoms that were maintained at the 8-week follow-up. With the fMRI scans they found widespread changes in brain functional connectivity following the MBCT program. Significantly, they found a reduced connectivity between the amygdala and parietal cortex that was negatively correlated with the reduction in tinnitus symptoms. In other words, the greater the decrease in functional connectivity, the greater the reductions in tinnitus symptoms. It will require further research to determine how this connectivity change might be related to tinnitus symptoms.

 

The study demonstrated that the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program reduces the symptoms of tinnitus in a lasting way. The brain scan results suggest that alterations of the functional connectivity of brain areas may underlie the symptom improvements. It will require considerably more research to determine the exact nature of the changes and their relationship to tinnitus. But the study is a good first start.

 

So, improve tinnitus by changing the brain with mindfulness.

 

“Mindfulness is a special kind of awareness: it . . . frees you to be more present in your immediate experience, so that you can wake up to the wonder of the one life you are given. Others have found that cultivating this practice has helped reduce the negative impact of tinnitus on their lives. The more open you can be to whatever you are experiencing at any moment, the more awake, alive, happy, and balanced you can be.” – Jennifer Gans

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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Study Summary

 

Zimmerman, B., Finnegan, M., Paul, S., Schmidt, S., Tai, Y., Roth, K., … Husain, F. T. (2019). Functional Brain Changes During Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Associated With Tinnitus Severity. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 13, 747. doi:10.3389/fnins.2019.00747

 

Abstract

Mindfulness-based therapies have been introduced as a treatment option to reduce the psychological severity of tinnitus, a currently incurable chronic condition. This pilot study of twelve subjects with chronic tinnitus investigates the relationship between measures of both task-based and resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and measures of tinnitus severity, assessed with the Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI). MRI was measured at three time points: before, after, and at follow-up of an 8-week long mindfulness-based cognitive therapy intervention. During the task-based fMRI with affective sounds, no significant changes were observed between sessions, nor was the activation to emotionally salient compared to neutral stimuli significantly predictive of TFI. Significant results were found using resting state fMRI. There were significant decreases in functional connectivity among the default mode network, cingulo-opercular network, and amygdala across the intervention, but no differences were seen in connectivity with seeds in the dorsal attention network (DAN) or fronto-parietal network and the rest of the brain. Further, only resting state connectivity between the brain and the amygdala, DAN, and fronto-parietal network significantly predicted TFI. These results point to a mostly differentiated landscape of functional brain measures related to tinnitus severity on one hand and mindfulness-based therapy on the other. However, overlapping results of decreased amygdala connectivity with parietal areas and the negative correlation between amygdala-parietal connectivity and TFI is suggestive of a brain imaging marker of successful treatment.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6667657/

 

Treat Depression with Tai Chi

Treat Depression with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“A 12-week program of instruction and practice of the Chinese martial art tai chi led to significantly reduced symptoms of depression in Chinese Americans not receiving any other treatments.” – Science Daily

 

Clinically diagnosed depression is the most common mental illness, affecting over 6% of the population. Major depression can be quite debilitating. Depression can be difficult to treat and is usually treated with anti-depressive medication. But, of patients treated initially with drugs only about a third attained remission of the depression. After repeated and varied treatments including drugs, therapy, exercise etc. only about two thirds of patients attained remission. But drugs often have troubling side effects and can lose effectiveness over time. In addition, many patients who achieve remission have relapses and recurrences of the depression. Even after remission some symptoms of depression may still be present (residual symptoms).

 

Being depressed and not responding to treatment or relapsing is a terribly difficult situation. The patients are suffering and nothing appears to work to relieve their intense depression. Suicide becomes a real possibility. So, it is imperative that other treatments be identified that can relieve the suffering. Mindfulness training is an alternative treatment for depression. It has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression and its recurrence and even in the cases where drugs fail.  Mindful Movement practices such as Qigong and Tai Chi have been found to be effective for depression. Research has been accumulating. So, it is important to step back and examine what has been learned regarding the application of Tai Chi practice for depression.

 

In today’s Research News article “Treating Depression With Tai Chi: State of the Art and Future Perspectives.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6474282/), Kong and colleagues review and summarize the published research on the effectiveness of Tai Chi practice for depression. They report that the published research has demonstrated that Tai Chi practice significantly decreases depression levels in a variety of groups including adults, the elderly, pregnant women, patients taking antidepressant drugs or not, and those with a variety of diseases including fibromyalgia, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, heart failure, mild dementia, and cerebrovascular disorder.

 

They report that the published research indicates that Tai Chi practice may lower depression by producing neuroplastic changes in the nervous system, particularly the brain’s Default Mode Network that’s known to be involved in self-referential thinking which is prevalent in depression. Another possible mechanism is indicated by the research demonstrating that Tai Chi reduces the physiological and psychological responses to stress, that are known to exacerbate depression. Tai Chi is also known to reduce the inflammatory response that is heightened in depression. In addition, Tai Chi is a mild exercise and exercise has been shown to reduce depression. Finally, Tai Chi practice appears to relax the autonomic component of the peripheral nervous system

 

The results of the published research suggests that Tai Chi  practice should be prescribed for depression. In addition, Tai Chi is a gentle and safe mindfulness practice. It is appropriate for all ages including the elderly and for individuals with illnesses that limit their activities or range of motion. It is inexpensive to administer, can be performed in groups or alone, at home or in a facility, and can be quickly learned. In addition, it can be practiced in social groups. This can make it fun, improving the likelihood of long-term engagement in the practice.

 

So, treat depression with Tai Chi.

 

“A 12-week program of instruction and practice of the Chinese martial art tai chi led to significantly reduced symptoms of depression in Chinese Americans not receiving any other treatments.” – Mayo Clinic

 

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

 

Kong, J., Wilson, G., Park, J., Pereira, K., Walpole, C., & Yeung, A. (2019). Treating Depression With Tai Chi: State of the Art and Future Perspectives. Frontiers in psychiatry, 10, 237. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00237

 

Abstract

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses in America. Current treatments for MDD are unsatisfactory given high non-response rates, high relapse rates, and undesirable side effects. Accumulating evidence suggests that Tai Chi, a popular mind–body intervention that originated as a martial art, can significantly regulate emotion and relieve the symptoms of mood disorders. In addition, the availability of instructional videos and the development of more simplified and less structured Tai Chi has made it a promising low-intensity mind-body exercise. In this article, we first examine a number of clinical trials that implemented Tai Chi as a treatment for depression. Then, we explore several mechanisms by which Tai Chi may alleviate depressive symptoms, hypothesizing that the intervention may modulate the activity and connectivity of key brain regions involved in mood regulation, reduce neuro-inflammatory sensitization, modulate the autonomic nervous system, and regulate hippocampal neurogenesis. Finally, we discuss common challenges of the intervention and possible ways to address them. Specifically, we pose developing a simplified and tailored Tai Chi protocol for patients with depression, comparatively investigating Tai Chi with other mind–body interventions such as yoga and Baduanjin, and developing new mind–body interventions that merge the advantages of multiple mind–body exercises.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6474282/

 

Less Complex Brain Activity Characterizes Meditation by Experienced Meditators.

Less Complex Brain Activity Characterizes Meditation by Experienced Meditators.

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Using modern technology like fMRI scans, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what’s taking place in our brains when we meditate. The overall difference is that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would.” – Belle Beth Cooper

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that meditation practice has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. One way that meditation practices may produce these benefits is by altering the brain. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

It is important to understand what are the exact changes in the brain that are produced by meditation. In today’s Research News article “Characterizing the Dynamical Complexity Underlying Meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6637306/), Escrichs and colleagues recruited experienced adult meditators with at least 1000 hours of meditation experience and an ongoing practice and a matched group of non-meditators. They underwent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) at rest and again when performing breath focused meditation. The scans were then analyzed with Intrinsic Ignition Framework that measures the degree of elicited whole-brain integration of spontaneously occurring events across time, in other words the complexity of information processing going on in the nervous system.

 

They found that at rest, the meditators had higher Intrinsic-Driven Mean Integration (IDMI) than controls but during meditation they had significantly lower IDMI than the controls. The meditators also had significantly higher metastability during rest than controls but that metastability significantly declined during meditation. These results are complex but indicate that meditators have greater levels of information moving around the brain and greater complexity of information processing over time at rest but during meditation move to a state where there is less information moving around and less complexity of processing.

 

The results suggest that meditators have more complicated information processing going on in their nervous systems at rest but during meditation greatly simplify that activity. It would appear that this takes practice as the non-meditators did not have comparable activities during meditation. This suggests that meditation experience over time produces neuroplastic alterations of the brain that increase the ability of the brain to process information normally and to become quieter during meditation.

 

Nondirective meditation yields more marked changes in electrical brain wave activity associated with wakeful, relaxed attention, than just resting without any specific mental technique.” – ScienceDaily

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

 

Escrichs, A., Sanjuán, A., Atasoy, S., López-González, A., Garrido, C., Càmara, E., & Deco, G. (2019). Characterizing the Dynamical Complexity Underlying Meditation. Frontiers in systems neuroscience, 13, 27. doi:10.3389/fnsys.2019.00027

 

Abstract

Over the past 2,500 years, contemplative traditions have explored the nature of the mind using meditation. More recently, neuroimaging research on meditation has revealed differences in brain function and structure in meditators. Nevertheless, the underlying neural mechanisms are still unclear. In order to understand how meditation shapes global activity through the brain, we investigated the spatiotemporal dynamics across the whole-brain functional network using the Intrinsic Ignition Framework. Recent neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that different states of consciousness differ in their underlying dynamical complexity, i.e., how the broadness of communication is elicited and distributed through the brain over time and space. In this work, controls and experienced meditators were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during resting-state and meditation (focused attention on breathing). Our results evidenced that the dynamical complexity underlying meditation shows less complexity than during resting-state in the meditator group but not in the control group. Furthermore, we report that during resting-state, the brain activity of experienced meditators showed higher metastability (i.e., a wider dynamical regime over time) than the one observed in the control group. Overall, these results indicate that the meditation state operates in a different dynamical regime compared to the resting-state.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6637306/

 

Structural and Functional Changes in the Brain Produced by Meditation Training

Structural and Functional Changes in the Brain Produced by Meditation Training

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress start to appear in subjects who practice mindfulness meditation for only eight weeks.” – Deepak Chopra

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. One way that mindfulness practices may produce these benefits is by altering the brain. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

Although, these changes have been documented, there is scant evidence regarding the temporal course of the neural changes with increasing experience with meditation. In today’s Research News article “Alterations in Brain Structure and Amplitude of Low-frequency after 8 weeks of Mindfulness Meditation Training in Meditation-Naïve Subjects.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6662752/), Yang and colleagues recruited meditation naïve college students and provided them with a 8 week meditation training program. They met for 1.5 hours once a week and were requested to meditate at home for 45 minutes daily. They were measured before and after the meditation program for mindfulness, anxiety, depression, and mood, including anger, fatigue, tension, depression, vigour and friendliness. In addition, their brains were measured with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) before and after training.

 

They found that after meditation training there were significant decreases in anxiety and depression and significant increases in the non-reactivity facet of mindfulness. Cortical thickness significantly increased over training in the precuneus and superior parietal lobule while local brain activity fluctuations decreased in the precuneus and inferior parietal lobule. The parietal cortex is associated with bodily sensation and self-referential thinking while the precuneus is associated with the default mode network involved in mind wandering and self-referential thought.

 

The study did not contain a control condition. So, conclusion must be reached carefully. But the results suggest that mindfulness meditation training decreases anxiety and depression, which has been previously well documented. The neural findings that meditation training resulted in decreased brain activity fluctuations in the precuneus and inferior parietal lobule suggests that the training reduces activity in brain regions associated with mind wandering and self-referential thinking, which have also been well documented previously. Focusing on the present moment as is trained in mindfulness meditation cannot coexist with mind wandering and self-referential thinking. So, it is not surprising that there’s reduced activity in the brain regions underlying these functions.

 

All of this suggests that mindfulness meditation training changes the brain in ways that reflect greater present moment awareness and less daydreaming and discursive thinking.

 

“as the popularity of mindfulness grows, brain imaging techniques are revealing that this ancient practice can profoundly change the way different regions of the brain communicate with each other – and therefore how we think – permanently.” – Tom Ireland

 

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

 

Chuan-Chih Yang, Alfonso Barrós-Loscertales, Meng Li, Daniel Pinazo, Viola Borchardt, César Ávila, Martin Walter. Alterations in Brain Structure and Amplitude of Low-frequency after 8 weeks of Mindfulness Meditation Training in Meditation-Naïve Subjects. Sci Rep. 2019; 9: 10977. Published online 2019 Jul 29. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-47470-4

 

Abstract

Increasing neuroimaging evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation expertise is related to different functional and structural configurations of the default mode network (DMN), the salience network (SN) and the executive network at rest. However, longitudinal studies observing resting network plasticity effects in brains of novices who started to practice meditation are scarce and generally related to one dimension, such as structural or functional effects. The purpose of this study was to investigate structural and functional brain network changes (e.g. DMN) after 40 days of mindfulness meditation training in novices and set these in the context of potentially altered depression symptomatology and anxiety. We found overlapping structural and functional effects in precuneus, a posterior DMN region, where cortical thickness increased and low-frequency amplitudes (ALFF) decreased, while decreased ALFF in left precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex correlates with the reduction of (CES-D) depression scores. In conclusion, regional overlapping of structural and functional changes in precuneus may capture different components of the complex changes of mindfulness meditation training.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6662752/

 

Mindfulness is Associated with Improved Functional Connectivity in the Brain

Mindfulness is Associated with Improved Functional Connectivity in the Brain

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“mindfulness meditation training increases resting state connectivity between top-down executive control regions, highlighting an important mechanism through which it reduces stress levels.” – Daniel Reed

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity.  Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread area. and have found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

This suggests that the individual’s trait of mindfulness may be associated with differing functional connectivity in the brain. In today’s Research News article “Trait Mindfulness and Functional Connectivity in Cognitive and Attentional Resting State Networks.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473082/), Parkinson and colleagues recruited undergraduate students and measured them for mindfulness including the observing, describing, non-reacting, acting with awareness, and non-judging facets. Functional connectivity of their brains was measured with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

 

They found that the higher the students’ levels of trait mindfulness and its facets the lower the functional connectivity in a set of structures termed the Default Mode Network (DMN) that has been associated with mind wandering, rumination, and self-referential thinking. Conversely, they found that the higher the students’ levels of trait mindfulness the higher the functional connectivity of the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, a structure associated with self-regulation, the Dorsal Medial Prefrontal Cortex, a structure associated with attentional control and high level thinking (executive function), the Insula, a structure associated with emotion regulation, and the Prefrontal Gyrus, a structure associated with sensorimotor processing.

 

Hence they found that there was increased functional connectivity in structures that appear to underlie the relationships of mindfulness with attention, emotion regulation, sensory processing, self-regulation, and high level thinking and decreased functional connectivity in structures that appear to underlie the processes of mind wandering and rumination that are weakened with mindfulness. In many ways, the functional connectivity of the students with high mindfulness resembles that of experienced meditators. This suggests that mindfulness and its benefits are associated with strengthened neural processing in specific areas of the brain.

 

 

Hence, mindfulness is associated with improved functional connectivity in the brain.

 

Just 11 hours of learning a meditation technique induce positive structural changes in brain connectivity by boosting efficiency in a part of the brain that helps a person regulate behavior in accordance with their goals.” – University of Oregon

 

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

 

Parkinson TD, Kornelsen J, Smith SD. Trait Mindfulness and Functional Connectivity in Cognitive and Attentional Resting State Networks. Front Hum Neurosci. 2019 Apr 12;13:112. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00112. PubMed PMID: 31031607; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6473082.

 

Abstract

Mindfulness has been described as an orienting of attention to the present moment, with openness and compassion. Individuals displaying high trait mindfulness exhibit this tendency as a more permanent personality attribute. Given the numerous physical and mental health benefits associated with mindfulness, there is a great interest in understanding the neural substrates of this trait. The purpose of the current research was to examine how individual differences in trait mindfulness associated with functional connectivity in five resting-state networks related to cognition and attention: the default mode network (DMN), the salience network (SN), the central executive network (CEN), and the dorsal and ventral attention networks (DAN and VAN). Twenty-eight undergraduate participants completed the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), a self-report measure of trait mindfulness which also provides scores on five of its sub-categories (Observing, Describing, Acting with Awareness, Non-judging of Inner Experience, and Non-reactivity to Inner Experience). Participants then underwent a structural MRI scan and a 7-min resting state functional MRI scan. Resting-state data were analyzed using independent-component analyses. An analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was performed to determine the relationship between each resting state network and each FFMQ score. These analyses indicated that: (1) trait mindfulness and its facets showed increased functional connectivity with neural regions related to attentional control, interoception, and executive function; and (2) trait mindfulness and its facets showed decreased functional connectivity with neural regions related to self-referential processing and mind wandering. These patterns of functional connectivity are consistent with some of the benefits of mindfulness—enhanced attention, self-regulation, and focus on present experience. This study provides support for the notion that non-judgmental attention to the present moment facilitates the integration of regions in neural networks that are related to cognition, attention, and sensation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473082/

 

Improve Caregiver Psychological Health by Changing the Brain Response with Mindfulness

Improve Caregiver Psychological Health by Changing the Brain Response with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“We are set up for short-term stress, but caregiving is long-term stress. Mindfulness is basically coming back into the present moment, so it works to inhibit the stress response. Most of us run around listening to our thoughts, and this is particularly true of caregivers, who are driven by the to-do list. They are never at rest.” – Joan Griffiths Vega

 

Dementia is a progressive loss of mental function produced by degenerative diseases of the brain. Dementia patients require caregiving particularly in the later stages of the disease. Caregiving for dementia patients is a daunting intense experience that can go on for four to eight years with increasing responsibilities as the loved one deteriorates. This places tremendous psychological and financial stress on the caregiver. Hence, there is a need to both care for the dementia patients and also for the caregivers. Mindfulness practice for caregivers has been shown to help them cope with the physical and psychological demands of caregiving. In addition, mindfulness training has been found to help protect aging individuals from physical and cognitive declines.

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity.  Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread area. and have found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “Grief, Mindfulness and Neural Predictors of Improvement in Family Dementia Caregivers.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6530345/), Jain and colleagues recruited dementia caregivers (91% female) and provided for them either 4 weeks of mindfulness training or 4 weeks of relaxation training. Training occurred in a once a week meeting along with home practice. The participants were measured before and after training for grief, depression, and mindfulness. They then had brain scans performed with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while they viewed pictures of their loved one with dementia or a stranger with the pictures labelled with either grief related words, e.g. disease, dementia, and sick or with neutral words e.g. village, planter and curve.

 

They found that at baseline grief and depression levels were high and strongly related. They also found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the lower the levels of grief and depression. After mindfulness training there were reductions in grief and depression and increases in mindfulness. These findings are similar to previous research of improvements in the mental health of caregivers after mindfulness training.

 

Interestingly, in comparison to pictures of strangers, when showed pictures of their loved ones with dementia the caregivers showed increases in brain activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus and precuneus. Viewing grief related words results in increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. The greater the decreases in grief following training the greater the activation of the medial prefrontal cortex and precuneus.

 

The structures showing activation to the caregiver’s loved one all are components of what is called the default mode network which is involved in self-referential thinking and thinking about others. It would appear that the mindfulness training resulted in greater thinking about the dementia patient and the self when viewing a picture of the patient. This may be reflective of heightened compassion for the self and the patient. This in turn, may produce improvements in the caregivers mental health.

 

So, improve caregiver psychological health by changing the brain response with mindfulness.

 

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

 

“By focusing on the fact that families and communities are producers of health and health care, not just clients or consumers, it empowers families and communities to co-create health interventions,” – Alicia Bazzano

 

Study Summary

 

Jain, F. A., Connolly, C. G., Moore, L. C., Leuchter, A. F., Abrams, M., Ben-Yelles, R. W., … Iacoboni, M. (2019). Grief, Mindfulness and Neural Predictors of Improvement in Family Dementia Caregivers. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 155. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2019.00155

 

Abstract

Background: Family dementia caregivers often suffer from an immense toll of grief while caring for their loved ones. We sought to identify the clinical relationship between grief, depression and mindfulness and identify neural predictors of symptomatology and improvement.

Methods: Twenty three family dementia caregivers were assessed at baseline for grief, mindfulness and depression, of which 17 underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). During fMRI, caregivers were shown faces of either their dementia-stricken relative or that of a stranger, paired with grief-related or neutral words. In nine subjects, post fMRI scans were also obtained after 4 weeks of either guided imagery or relaxation. Robust regression was used to predict changes in symptoms with longitudinal brain activation (BA) changes as the dependent variable.

Results: Grief and depression symptoms were correlated (r = 0.50, p = 0.01), and both were negatively correlated with mindfulness (r = −0.70, p = 0.0002; r = −0.52, p = 0.01). Relative to viewing strangers, caregivers showed pictures of their loved ones (picture factor) exhibited increased activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus and precuneus. Improvement in grief but not mindfulness or depression was predicted by increased relative BA in the precuneus and anterior cingulate (different subregions from baseline). Viewing grief-related vs. neutral words elicited activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and precuneus.

Conclusions: Caregiver grief, depression and mindfulness are interrelated but have at least partially nonoverlapping neural mechanisms. Picture and word stimuli related to caregiver grief evoked brain activity in regions previously identified with bereavement grief. These activation foci might be useful as biomarkers of treatment response.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6530345/

Religion and Spirituality are Associated with Brain Difference is Individuals At-Risk for Major Depression

Religion and Spirituality are Associated with Brain Difference is Individuals At-Risk for Major Depression

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

There are two possible explanations. One is that a thicker cortex is more associated with being interested in spiritual questions, the connectedness of people, etc and is simultaneously protective against depression. The other is that a lifelong habit of meditating and/or contemplation of spirituality stimulates the metabolism and neurogeneration in areas of the brain that confer resilience to trauma and therefore reduce the risk of developing depression.” – Emily Deans

 

Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred. Spirituality has been promulgated as a solution to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the influence of spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health.

 

One way that spirituality can have its effects on the individual is by altering the brain. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity.  Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread area. and have found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. So, religion and spirituality may be associated with changes in the nervous system.

 

In today’s Research News article “A diffusion tensor imaging study of brain microstructural changes related to religion and spirituality in families at high risk for depression.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6379589/), Li and colleagues recruited adult (average 33 years old) offspring of patients with major depressive disorder (high risk) and offspring from individuals who have no psychiatric conditions (low risk). Their brains were scanned with a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). They also completed a scale measuring the importance they ascribed to religion and spirituality.

 

They found that in participants who believed that religion / spirituality was of low importance but were of high risk for major depression had significantly decreased integrity and microstructure in white matter regions neighboring the precuneus, superior parietal lobe, superior and middle frontal gyrus, and bilateral insula, supplementary motor area, and postcentral gyrus. Participants who believed that religion / spirituality was of high importance and were of high risk for major depression had significantly decreased integrity and microstructure in white matter regions surrounding the left superior, and middle frontal gyrus, left superior parietal lobule, and right supplementary motor area.

 

These are complex findings that suggest that adults at high risk of developing major depression have lower integrity (functionality) of the connections between brain regions (white matter) potentially making them more susceptible for the development of major depression. These neural changes appear to be different depending upon the individuals’ beliefs of the importance of religion / spirituality. Religion / spirituality may be associated with reorganized connections that may be associated with protection from the development of major depression. This may be a mechanism by which religion / spirituality helps to protect individuals from developing major depression.

 

This is highly speculative and it will take much more research to test these ideas. But, nonetheless, the results suggest that how well the brain operates is damaged by having parents with major depressive disorder. But, being religious / spiritual may alter the disruptions of the brain protecting the individual from the development of a major depressive disorder.

 

people with habitual spiritual practices show cortical thickening in the prefrontal cortex. Intriguingly, she says that individuals who live with chronic depression experience cortical thinning in the same brain region.” – Maria Cohut

 

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

 

Li, X., Weissman, M., Talati, A., Svob, C., Wickramaratne, P., Posner, J., & Xu, D. (2019). A diffusion tensor imaging study of brain microstructural changes related to religion and spirituality in families at high risk for depression. Brain and behavior, 9(2), e01209. doi:10.1002/brb3.1209

 

Abstract

Introduction

Previously in a three‐generation study of families at high risk for depression, we found that belief in the importance of religion/spirituality (R/S) was associated with thicker cortex in bilateral parietal and occipital regions. In the same sample using functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalograph (EEG), we found that offspring at high familial risk had thinner cortices, increased default mode network connectivity, and reduced EEG power. These group differences were significantly diminished in offspring at high risk who reported high importance of R/S beliefs, suggesting a protective effect.

Methods

This study extends previous work examining brain microstructural differences associated with risk for major depressive disorder (MDD) and tests whether these are normalized in at‐risk offspring who report high importance of R/S beliefs. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data were selected from 99 2nd and 3rd generation offspring of 1st generation depressed (high‐risk, HR) or nondepressed (low‐risk, LR) parents. Whole‐brain and region‐of‐interest analyses were performed, using ellipsoidal area ratio (EAR, an alternative diffusion anisotropy index comparable to fractional anisotropy). We examined microstructural differences associated with familial risk for depression within the groups of high and low importance of R/S beliefs (HI, LI).

Results

In the LI group, HR individuals showed significantly decreased EAR in white matter regions neighboring the precuneus, superior parietal lobe, superior and middle frontal gyrus, and bilateral insula, supplementary motor area, and postcentral gyrus. In the HI group, HR individuals showed reduced EAR in white matter surrounding the left superior, and middle frontal gyrus, left superior parietal lobule, and right supplementary motor area. Microstructural differences associated with familial risk for depression in precuneus, frontal lobe, and temporal lobe were nonsignificant or less significant in the HI group.

Conclusion

R/S beliefs may affect microstructure in brain regions associated with R/S, potentially conferring resilience to depression among HR individuals.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6379589/

 

Alter the Brain to Deal with Stress with Meditation and Yoga

Alter the Brain to Deal with Stress with Meditation and Yoga

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Brain researchers have detected improvements in cognition and emotional well-being associated with meditation and yoga, as well as differences in how meditation and prayer affect the brain.” – Michaela Jarvis

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. One way that mindfulness practices may produce these benefits is by altering the brain. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation and yoga practice are associated with smaller right amygdala volume: the Rotterdam study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6302143/), Gotink and colleagues utilized the data on participants in the longitudinal Rotterdam Study who were 45 years of age and older  at the time of recruitment and at the time of measurement had a mean age of 64 years. They were interviewed to determine if the practiced meditation and yoga and whether these practices improved their coping with stress. They were also measured for body size, blood pressure, blood fat, diabetes, smoking, alcohol use, stress, anxiety, and depression. In addition, their brains were scanned with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

 

They found that practitioners of meditation and yoga reported higher stress levels than non-practitioners, but reported that the practice helped them cope with the stress. In addition, meditation practitioners had higher depression levels than non-practitioners. It is possible that people who are under high levels of stress or are depressed tend to engage in meditation and yoga practices to help cope with it.

 

They also report that the practitioners had smaller volumes of the brain structures right side amygdala and left hippocampus. In addition, over a five-year period the practitioners had a significant decrease in amygdala volume. The amygdala is associated with negative emotions and its smaller volume may suggest fewer or weaker negative emotions in practitioners.

 

This was a cross-sectional study and causation cannot be determined. It is possible that people with certain types of brains are more likely to practice. It will require a randomized controlled trial to determine what effects yoga and meditation practice may have on the psychological state and nervous system volumes.

 

Alter the brain to deal with stress with meditation and yoga.

 

“Studies show that yoga increases relaxation in the brain, improves areas of the brain that help us manage pain, and protects us against age-related decline. Together, these benefits begin to reveal the scientifically validated effects of yoga practice on brain health.” – Angela Wilson

 

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

 

Gotink, R. A., Vernooij, M. W., Ikram, M. A., Niessen, W. J., Krestin, G. P., Hofman, A., … Hunink, M. (2018). Meditation and yoga practice are associated with smaller right amygdala volume: the Rotterdam study. Brain imaging and behavior, 12(6), 1631–1639. doi:10.1007/s11682-018-9826-z

 

Abstract

To determine the association between meditation and yoga practice, experienced stress, and amygdala and hippocampal volume in a large population-based study. This study was embedded within the population-based Rotterdam Study and included 3742 participants for cross-sectional association. Participants filled out a questionnaire assessing meditation practice, yoga practice, and experienced stress, and underwent a magnetic resonance scan of the brain. 2397 participants underwent multiple brain scans, and were assessed for structural change over time. Amygdala and hippocampal volumes were regions of interest, as these are structures that may be affected by meditation. Multivariable linear regression analysis and mixed linear models were performed adjusted for age, sex, educational level, intracranial volume, cardiovascular risk, anxiety, depression and stress. 15.7% of individuals participated in at least one form of practice. Those who performed meditation and yoga practices reported significantly more stress (mean difference 0.2 on a 1–5 scale, p < .001) and more depressive symptoms (mean difference 1.03 on CESD, p = .015). Partaking in meditation and yoga practices was associated with a significantly lower right amygdala volume (β = − 31.8 mm3, p = .005), and lower left hippocampus volume (β = − 75.3 mm3, p = .025). Repeated measurements using linear mixed models showed a significant effect over time on the right amygdala of practicing meditation and yoga (β = − 24.4 mm3, SE 11.3, p = .031). Partaking in meditation and yoga practice is associated with more experienced stress while it also helps cope with stress, and is associated with smaller right amygdala volume.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6302143/

 

Alter the Brain for Improved Memory with Aging with Tai Chi

Alter the Brain for Improved Memory with Aging with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“our brain physiology and memory can be changed with Tai Chi. . . Brain scans show neural changes in the Tai Chi group associated with better memory, especially in cognitive areas associated with spatial memory.” – Paul Lam

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem-solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided.

 

Using modern neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to view the changes that occur in the nervous system with aging. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners. Tai Chi and Qigong have also been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging and to increase brain matter in the elderly.

 

An interconnected system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) is involved in internally focused tasks such as recalling memories, daydreaming, sleeping, imagining the future and trying to take the perspective of others. The DMN involves neural structures including the medial prefrontal cortex, anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, precuneus, inferior parietal cortex, and lateral temporal cortex. These areas of the DMN are functionally connected, such that they are simultaneously active during memory retrieval. It is possible that Tai Chi practice improves memory in aging adults by altering the functional connectivity of the DMN.

 

In today’s Research News article “Different Modulation Effects of Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin on Resting State Functional Connectivity of the Default Mode Baduanjin is a mind-body training that is very similar to Tai Chi and consists of 8 movements for limbs, body-trunk, and eye movements. Network in Older Adults.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6374601/), Liu and colleagues recruited healthy older participants, aged 50 to 70 years, who had not been regularly exercising and randomly assigned them to a health education program or to engage in a Tai Chi or Baduanjin practice for 60 minutes per session, five days per week, for 12 weeks. Baduanjin is a mind-body training that is very similar to Tai Chi and consists of 8 movements for limbs, body-trunk, and eye movements. Before and after the 12-week intervention period the participants were measured for memory function and underwent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the health education control group the older adults who practiced Tai Chi or Baduanjin had significant improvements in memory function. The MRI scans demonstrated increased Tai Chi Practice produced functional connectivity within the Default Mode Network (DMN) between the medial prefrontal cortex and right putamen/caudate and the cingulate cortex and right putamen/caudate. On the other hand, Baduanjin practice produced decreased functional connectivity between the medial prefrontal cortex and orbital prefrontal gyrus/putamen.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that both Tai Chi and Baduanjin practice improve memory in older adults and also alter the connectivity between structures in the Default Mode Network (DMN). Interestingly, the two practices appear to produce different changes in functional connectivity within the DMN. This suggests that the two practice my improve memory in different ways, both altering the DMN, but differently.

 

The results demonstrate as has previous research that ancient Chinese mindful movement practices help to restrain age related deterioration in the memory processes. These mindful movement practices are gentle and safe, are appropriate for all ages including the elderly and for individuals with illnesses that limit their activities or range of motion, are inexpensive to administer, can be performed in groups or alone, at home or in a facility, and can be quickly learned. In addition, they can be practiced in social groups. This can make it fun, improving the likelihood of long-term engagement in the practice. So, Tai Chi and Baduanjin practices would appear to be an excellent gentle practice to improve memory in aging individuals.

 

So, alter the brain for improved memory with aging with Tai Chi and Baduanjin practices.

 

tai chi is a culturally appropriate mind-body therapy for older adults with mild cognitive impairment . . . It was also effective in improving the activities of daily living and cognition.” – Medical News Bulletin

 

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

 

Liu, J., Tao, J., Liu, W., Huang, J., Xue, X., Li, M., … Kong, J. (2019). Different Modulation Effects of Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin on Resting State Functional Connectivity of the Default Mode Network in Older Adults. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 14(2), 217–224. Advance online publication. doi:10.1093/scan/nsz001

 

Abstract

The default mode network (DMN) plays an important role in age-related cognitive decline. This study aims to explore the modulation effect of two mind–body interventions (Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin) on DMN in elderly individuals. Participants between 50 and 70 years old were recruited and randomized into a Tai Chi Chuan, Baduanjin or control group. The Wechsler Memory Scale-Chinese Revision and resting-state fMRI scans were administered at baseline and following 12 weeks of exercise. Seed-based resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) was calculated. We found that (i) compared to the Baduanjin group, Tai Chi Chuan was significantly associated with increased rsFC between the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and right putamen/caudate and (ii) compared to the control group, Tai Chi Chuan increased posterior cingulate cortex rsFC with the right putamen/caudate, while Baduanjin decreased rsFC between the mPFC and orbital prefrontal gyrus/putamen. Baseline mPFC rsFC with orbital prefrontal gyrus was negatively correlated with visual reproduction subscore. These results suggest that both Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin can modulate the DMN, but through different pathways. Elucidating the mechanisms underlying different mind–body interventions may shed light on the development of new methods to prevent age-related diseases as well as other disorders associated with disrupted DMN.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6374601/

 

Reduce Age-Related Decline in the Brain with Mindfulness

Reduce Age-Related Decline in the Brain with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Long-term engagement in mindfulness meditation may enhance cognitive performance in older adults, and that with persistent practice, these benefits may be sustained. That’s great news for the millions of aging adults working to combat the negative effects of aging on the brain.” – B Grace Bullock

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem-solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. Using modern neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to view the changes that occur in the nervous system with aging. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.

 

In today’s Research News article “Default Mode Network, Meditation, and Age-Associated Brain Changes: What Can We Learn from the Impact of Mental Training on Well-Being as a Psychotherapeutic Approach?” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466873/), Ramírez-Barrantes and colleagues review and summarize the research on the effects of meditation practice on brain function and aging focusing primarily on the Default Mode Network (DMN). It is composed of interconnected brain regions including the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, inferior parietal lobule, and inferolateral temporal cortex. It is active when the mind is wandering and when the individual is involved in self-referential thinking.

 

Increased activation and functional connectivity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) are associated with the cognitive decline with aging. This makes sense as increased mind wandering would interfere with the attentional focus needed for high level thinking. Mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga have been shown to both reduce the cognitive decline with aging and also to decrease the activation and functional connectivity of the DMN. This suggests that mindfulness practices may help prevent the cognitive decline in aging in part by reducing the activity of the DMN.

 

Ramírez-Barrantes and colleagues propose that age-related cognitive decline may be slowed or prevented by engaging in mindfulness practices that reduce the activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN). This would reduce mind wandering and improve attention focus resulting in a greater ability to engage in high level thinking. Much more research is needed to explore this interesting possibility.

 

So, reduce age-related decline in the brain with mindfulness.

 

“experienced meditators have higher concentrations of tissue in brain regions most depleted by aging. This suggests that meditation practice may help to minimize brain age and protect against age-related decline.” – Matt Caron

 

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

 

Ramírez-Barrantes, R., Arancibia, M., Stojanova, J., Aspé-Sánchez, M., Córdova, C., & Henríquez-Ch, R. A. (2019). Default Mode Network, Meditation, and Age-Associated Brain Changes: What Can We Learn from the Impact of Mental Training on Well-Being as a Psychotherapeutic Approach?. Neural Plasticity, 2019, 7067592. doi:10.1155/2019/7067592

 

Abstract

Aging is a physiological process accompanied by cognitive decline, principally in memory and executive functions. Alterations in the connectivity of the default mode network (DMN) have been found to participate in cognitive decline, as well as in several neurocognitive disorders. The DMN has antisynchronic activity with attentional networks (task-positive networks (TPN)), which are critical to executive function and memory. Findings pointing to the regulation of the DMN via activation of TPN suggest that it can be used as a strategy for neuroprotection. Meditation is a noninvasive and nonpharmacological technique proven to increase meta-awareness, a cognitive ability which involves the control of both networks. In this review, we discuss the possibility of facilitating healthy aging through the regulation of networks through meditation. We propose that by practicing specific types of meditation, cognitive decline could be slowed, promoting a healthy lifestyle, which may enhance the quality of life for the elderly.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466873/