August 15, 2012
Loneliness Decreases In Adults Who Use Meditation
Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Loneliness cannot only be damaging for the psyche, but also has physical impacts. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that a meditation program, completed in a little less than eight weeks, helped decrease loneliness among adults. The UCLA study also finds that mindfulness can also help boost the immune system.
The findings, featured in a recent online edition of the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, showed that the two-month program of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) could help decrease emotions related to loneliness. In the program, participants learned how to train their mind to be attentive to the present and to not put too much thought or effort into the past or the future.
"Our work presents the first evidence showing that a psychological intervention that decreases loneliness also reduces pro-inflammatory gene expression," explained senior study author Steve Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine and psychiatry and a member of the Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, in a prepared statement. "If this is borne out by further research, MBSR could be a valuable tool to improve the quality of life for many elderly."
The researchers also believe that MBSR can change the genes and protein markers of inflammation, which includes genes that are regulated by the transcription factor NF-kB and also inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP). In particular, CRP is a dangerous risk factor for heart disease and NF-kB is a molecular signal that can cause inflammation. Inflammation is a natural part of the immune system that can help defend against bodily insults like infections or injuries from tools. On the other hand, chronic inflammation can also lead to different diseases and psychological disorders.
In the project, 40 adults, ages 55 to 85, participated in the study and were randomly placed in a mindfulness mediation group or a control group that did not involve meditation. All the subjects were examined in the beginning and the end of the study to create a loneliness scale. Researchers also collected blood samples at the beginning and end of the project to track gene expression and levels of inflammation.
Based on the study, MSBR participants self-reported a decrease in feelings of loneliness while their blood tests displayed a reduction in the expression of genes associated with inflammation.
"While this was a small sample, the results were very encouraging," remarked Dr. Michael Irwin, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and director of the Cousins Center, in the statement. "It adds to a growing body of research that is showing the positive benefits of a variety of meditative techniques, including tai chi and yoga."
Last month, another published study by Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and a member of the Cousins Center, demonstrated that yogic meditation with chanting could also lower inflammatory gene expression and reduce stress levels in patients who were diagnosed with Alzheimer´s disease.
"These studies begin to move us beyond simply connecting the mind and genome, and identify simple practices that an individual can harness to improve human health," concluded Irwin in the statement.