An imaging study conducted by researchers at the University of California suggests that meditation can help preserve the brain’s grey matter. As lifespans increase and age-related neurodegenerative disease becomes an increasing problem, this new research suggests that meditation may be one way to minimise these risks.
The research builds on earlier work that showed a correlation between mediation and less age-related atrophy in the brain’s white matter. Scientists compared 50 people who had meditated over 4 to 46 years, and 50 who had never meditated or who had not done so regularly. The participants’ brains were scanned using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging. While it was observed that both groups had experienced a loss of grey matter with age, the volume of loss was substantially lower in the meditating group.
The magnitude of the difference between the groups was particularly surprising. Co-author of the study, Dr Florian Kurth, explained that “we expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with mediating… Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
However, the results must be taken with caution. The researchers warned that they cannot infer a direct, causal connection between meditation and preserving grey matter in the brain. Although it may contribute, there are numerous other factors that must be taken into account, from lifestyle choices to genetic differences.
First author Dr Eileen Luders maintains that the results are promising.
“Hopefully they will stimulate other studies exploring the potential of meditation to better preserve our aging brains and minds. Accumulating scientific evidence than meditation has brain-altering capabilities might ultimately allow for an effective translation from research to practice.”