Study © Carnegie Mellon University 2012
Last month I wrote about the discovery that mindfulness meditation practice decreases loneliness in older adults. However, Creswell and his research team made another important discovery that appeared in this month’s Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Journal. If you’d like to hear Creswell talking about his research, there is an interesting video clip here on YouTube.
When they tested the 40 healthy adults at the beginning of the study, they found that a greater sense of loneliness was associated with elevated pro-inflammatory gene expression in their immune cells. It appears that the higher the level of loneliness participants reported, the greater the inflammationin their bodies.
Interestingly, eight weeks later, those who participated in the MBSR program showed a significant reduction in pro-inflammatory gene expression. They also had significantly less C-Reactive Protein (CRP) in their blood which is a common marker for inflammation.
This is a particularly important finding as Creswell notes that inflammation is thought to promote the development and progression of several diseases including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and irritable bowel.
According to Creswell, meditation’s ability to lower inflammation levels is “amazing. “ He states that, “For the first time, we are seeing that a behavioral practice — paying attention to your experience from moment to moment — has the power to change the gene expression in your immune cells.”
In this particular study, the control group unfortunately did not have any treatment that could be compared with the MBSR. Creswell intends to replicate the study with both an active control group and a larger sample size. It would be useful in future research to assess whether the effects of reducing pro-inflammatory gene expression translate into more positive outcomes for disease.
You may be wondering whether other forms of meditation might bring the same benefits. According to Creswell, “We don’t have the data to indicate whether or not there is something distinct about mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques. I suspect, though, that having a formal meditation program with a teacher is beneficial because it provides structure and helps you train and build skills, at least in the beginning.” He added that “It’s important to train your mind like you train your biceps in the gym.”
Marian & Brett