Posted on Jul 27, 2016, 6 a.m.
People who meditate have stronger connections between brain regions and show less age-related brain atrophy.
Previously, researchers at the University of California/Los Angeles (UCLA; California, USA) found that specific regions in the brains of people who engaged in meditation for an extended duration were larger and had more gray matter, as compared to the brains of individuals in a control group. A follow-up study suggests that people who meditate also have stronger connections between brain regions and show less age-related brain atrophy. Having stronger connections influences the ability to rapidly relay electrical signals in the brain. And significantly, these effects are evident throughout the entire brain, not just in specific areas. Eileen Luders and colleagues enrolled 27 active meditation practitioners (average age 52 years) and 27 control subjects, with each group composed of 11 men and 16 women. The number of years of meditation practice ranged from 5 to 46; self-reported meditation styles included Shamatha, Vipassana and Zazen, styles that were practiced by about 55% of the meditators, either exclusively or in combination with other styles. Engaging a method of brain imaging known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), the team gained insights into the structural connectivity of the brain. Results showed pronounced structural connectivity in meditators throughout the entire brain's pathways. The greatest differences between the two groups were seen within the corticospinal tract (a collection of axons that travel between the cerebral cortex of the brain and the spinal cord); the superior longitudinal fasciculus (long bi-directional bundles of neurons connecting the front and the back of the cerebrum); and the uncinate fasciculus (white matter that connects parts of the limbic system, such as the hippocampus and amygdala, with the frontal cortex). Observing that the differences between meditators and controls are not confined to a particular core region of the brain but involve large-scale networks that include the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes and the anterior corpus callosum, as well as limbic structures and the brain stem, the team concludes that: ” Meditation might be a powerful tool to change the physical structure of the brain.”
Eileen Luders, Kristi Clark, Katherine L. Narr, Arthur W. Toga. “Enhanced brain connectivity in long-term meditation practitioners .” NeuroImage, Volume 57, Issue 4, 15 August 2011, Pages 1308-1316.