What are the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain?

Often called upon for its therapeutic virtues related to stress, mindfulness meditation continues to fascinate the scientific world. But does this practice actually work? A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in the United States have demonstrated that meditation increases connectivity in the prefrontal cortex and decreases the level of interleukin 6, known as the biomarker of inflammation.

A fundamental step in Buddhism, mindfulness meditation was imported to the United States in the 1950s where it found several applications in psychology and behavioral therapy. Touted for its benefits against stress and depression, this practice consists of focusing on the present moment and analyzing the sensations felt. How does it work?

To answer this, David Creswell, co-author of the publication, and his team of researchers conducted a study with 35 job seekers with a high level of stress. The volunteers were separated into two groups: one part followed a training in mindfulness meditation for three days, while the other practiced only classic relaxation. All 35 people underwent brain scans at rest, 5 minutes before and after training. Blood samples were also taken before the program and four months later.

A structural change in the brain

Although the cohort seems small, the results obtained are interesting. Mindfulness meditation seems to have effects on the structure of the brain. Indeed, scans performed on people who have practiced mindfulness meditation reveal an increase in connectivity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This area is known to be involved in attention and executive functions, which control behavior. The relaxation group does not show these changes.

In addition, blood tests show a reduction in the level of interleukin-6, a biomarker of inflammation, in meditators. These results therefore confirm the role that mindfulness meditation plays in the brain’s ability to reorganize neural networks. « We believe that these brain-level changes provide a neurobiological marker of better executive control and better resilience to stress, such that mindfulness meditation improves the brain’s ability to help us deal with that stress. »believes David Creswell.

Mindfulness meditation therefore seems to do as much good for the body as it does for the mind. And as the famous violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin said, “There is no need to meditate in the name of Jesus, Buddha or anyone. Simply meditate. Meditate. » What finally motivate us all.

By Dylan Beiner-Moliere


Biological Psychiatry, erudit.org, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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