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To test the effects of cortisol on affective experience, the authors orally administered a placebo, 20 mg cortisol, or 40 mg cortisol to 85 men. Participants' affective responses to negative and neutral stimuli were measured. Self-reported affective state was also assessed. Participants in the 40-mg group (showing extreme cortisol elevations within the physiological range) rated neutral stimuli as more highly arousing than did participants in the placebo and 20-mg groups. Furthermore, within the 20-mg group, individuals with higher cortisol elevations made higher arousal ratings of neutral stimuli. However, cortisol was unrelated to self-reported affective state. Thus, findings indicate that acute cortisol elevations cause heightened arousal in response to objectively nonarousing stimuli, in the absence of effects on mood.
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The authors examined the hypothesis that rhesus monkeys with extreme right frontal electroencephalographic activity would have higher cortisol levels and would be more fearful compared with monkeys with extreme left frontal activity. The authors first showed that individual differences in asymmetric frontal electrical activity are a stable characteristic. Next, the authors demonstrated that relative right asymmetric frontal activity and cortisol levels are correlated in animals 1 year of age. Additionally, extreme right frontal animals had elevated cortisol concentrations and more intense defensive responses. At 3 years of age, extreme right frontal animals continued to have elevated cortisol concentrations. These findings demonstrate important relations among extreme asymmetric frontal electrical activity, cortisol levels, and trait-like fear-related behaviors in young rhesus monkeys.
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BACKGROUND: Asymmetric patterns of frontal brain activity and brain corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) systems have both been separately implicated in the processing of normal and abnormal emotional responses. Previous studies in rhesus monkeys demonstrated that individuals with extreme right frontal asymmetric brain electrical activity have high levels of trait-like fearful behavior and increased plasma cortisol concentrations. METHODS: In this study we assessed cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) CRH concentrations in monkeys with extreme left and extreme right frontal brain electrical activity. CSF was repeatedly collected at 4, 8, 14, 40, and 52 months of age. RESULTS: Monkeys with extreme right frontal brain activity had increased CSF CRH concentrations at all ages measured. In addition, individual differences in CSF CRH concentrations were stable from 4 to 52 months of age. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that, in primates, the fearful endophenotype is characterized by increased fearful behavior, a specific pattern of frontal electrical activity, increased pituitary-adrenal activity, and increased activity of brain CRH systems. Data from other preclinical studies suggests that the increased brain CRH activity may underlie the behavioral and physiological characteristics of fearful endophenotype.
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Some children show emotion that is not consistent with normative appraisal of the context and can therefore be defined as context inappropriate (CI). The authors used individual growth curve modeling and hierarchical multiple regression analyses to examine whether CI anger predicts differences in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, as manifest in salivary cortisol measures. About 23% of the 360 children (ages 6-10 years, primarily 7-8) showed at least 1 expression of CI anger in situations designed to elicit positive affect. Expression of anger across 2 positive assessments was less common (around 4%). CI anger predicted the hypothesized lower levels of cortisol beyond that attributed to context appropriate anger. Boys' CI anger predicted lower morning cortisol and flatter slopes. Results suggest that this novel approach to studying children's emotion across varying contexts can provide insight into affective style.
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The putative association between fear-related behaviors and peripheral sympathetic and neuroendocrine reactivity has not been replicated consistently. This inconsistency was addressed in a reexamination of the characterization of children with extreme fearful reactions by focusing on the match between distress behaviors and the eliciting context. Eighty 24-month-old children were observed in 4 mildly threatening contexts, and the relations among different measures of fear-related behaviors, reactive and basal cortisol levels, and baseline cardiac measures of heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and preejection period (PEP) were examined. The hypothesis that only behaviors under the less threatening context would be associated with higher cortisol and sympathetic cardiac activity was confirmed; only task-specific freezing behavior predicted higher reactive and basal cortisol levels and resting PEP measured 1 week later. Implications for the conceptualization of dysregulated fear behaviors in the classification of extremely fearful children are discussed.
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Many investigators have hypothesized that brain response to cortisol is altered in depression. However, neural activation in response to exogenously manipulated cortisol elevations has not yet been directly examined in depressed humans. Animal research shows that glucocorticoids have robust effects on hippocampal function, and can either enhance or suppress neuroplastic events in the hippocampus depending on a number of factors. We hypothesized that depressed individuals would show 1) altered hippocampal response to exogenous administration of cortisol, and 2) altered effects of cortisol on learning. In a repeated-measures design, 19 unmedicated depressed and 41 healthy individuals completed two fMRI scans. Fifteen mg oral hydrocortisone (i.e., cortisol) or placebo (order randomized and double-blind) was administered 1 h prior to encoding of emotional and neutral words during fMRI scans. Data analysis examined the effects of cortisol administration on 1) brain activation during encoding, and 2) subsequent free recall for words. Cortisol affected subsequent recall performance in depressed but not healthy individuals. We found alterations in hippocampal response to cortisol in depressed women, but not in depressed men (who showed altered response to cortisol in other regions, including subgenual prefrontal cortex). In both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function were positively correlated with its effects on recall performance assessed days later. Our data provide evidence that in depressed compared to healthy women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function are altered. Our data also show that in both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on emotional memory formation and hippocampal function are related.
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In a test of the effects of cortisol on emotional memory, 90 men were orally administered placebo or 20 or 40 mg cortisol and presented with emotionally arousing and neutral stimuli. On memory tests administered within 1 hr of stimulus presentation, cortisol elevations caused a reduction in the number of errors committed on free-recall tasks. Two evenings later, when cortisol levels were no longer manipulated, inverted-U quadratic trends were found for recognition memory tasks, reflecting memory facilitation in the 20-mg group for both negative and neutral information. Results suggest that the effects of cortisol on memory do not differ substantially for emotional and neutral information. The study provides evidence of beneficial effects of acute cortisol elevations on explicit memory in humans.
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Early life stress (ELS) and function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis predict later psychopathology. Animal studies and cross-sectional human studies suggest that this process might operate through amygdala-ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) circuitry implicated in the regulation of emotion. Here we prospectively investigated the roles of ELS and childhood basal cortisol amounts in the development of adolescent resting-state functional connectivity (rs-FC), assessed by functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI), in the amygdala-PFC circuit. In females only, greater ELS predicted increased childhood cortisol levels, which predicted decreased amygdala-vmPFC rs-FC 14 years later. For females, adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity was inversely correlated with concurrent anxiety symptoms but positively associated with depressive symptoms, suggesting differing pathways from childhood cortisol levels function through adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity to anxiety and depression. These data highlight that, for females, the effects of ELS and early HPA-axis function may be detected much later in the intrinsic processing of emotion-related brain circuits.
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OBJECTIVES: Previously it was shown that a brief yoga-based lifestyle intervention was efficacious in reducing oxidative stress and risk of chronic diseases even in a short duration. The objective of this study was to assess the efficacy of this intervention in reducing stress and inflammation in patients with chronic inflammatory diseases. DESIGN: This study reports preliminary results from a nonrandomized prospective ongoing study with pre-post design. SETTING/LOCATION: The study was conducted at the Integral Health Clinic, an outpatient facility conducting these yoga-based lifestyle intervention programs for prevention and management of chronic diseases. SUBJECTS: Patients with chronic inflammatory diseases and overweight/obese subjects were included while physically challenged, and those on other interventions were excluded from the study. INTERVENTION: A pretested intervention program included asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), stress management, group discussions, lectures, and individualized advice. OUTCOME MEASURES: There was a reduction in stress (plasma cortisol and β-endorphin) and inflammation (interleukin [IL]-6 and tumor necrosis factor [TNF]-α) at day 0 versus day 10. RESULTS: Eighty-six (86) patients (44 female, 42 male, 40.07 ± 13.91 years) attended this program. Overall, the mean level of cortisol decreased from baseline to day 10 (149.95 ± 46.07, 129.07 ± 33.30 ng/mL; p=0.001) while β-endorphins increased from baseline to day 10 (3.53 ± 0.88, 4.06 ± 0.79 ng/mL; p=0.024). Also, there was reduction from baseline to day 10 in mean levels of IL-6 (2.16 ± 0.42, 1.94 ± 0.10 pg/mL, p=0.036) and TNF-α (2.85 ± 0.59, 1.95 ± 0.32 pg/mL, p=0.002). CONCLUSIONS: This brief yoga-based lifestyle intervention reduced the markers of stress and inflammation as early as 10 days in patients with chronic diseases; however, complete results of this study will confirm whether this program has utility as complementary and alternative therapy.
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The relation between brain activity and the immune system was evaluated by assessing immune responses in 20 healthy women who manifested extreme differences in the asymmetry of frontal cortex activation. One group showed extreme and stable left frontal activation; the other group showed extreme and stable right frontal activation. As predicted, women with extreme right frontal activation had significantly lower levels of natural killer cell activity (at effector:target cell ratios of 33:1 and 11:1) than did left frontally activated individuals. This difference did not extend to two other immune measures, lymphocyte proliferation and T-cell subsets. However, higher immunoglobulin levels of the M class were observed in the right frontal group. In this study, the immune patterns could not be accounted for by plasma cortisol levels, anxiety- and depression-related symptomatology, or recent health histories. These findings support the hypothesis that there is a specific association between frontal brain asymmetry and certain immune responses.
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The prefrontal cortex (PFC) has been well known for its role in higher order cognition, affect regulation and social reasoning. Although the precise underpinnings have not been sufficiently described, increasing evidence also supports a prefrontal involvement in the regulation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Here we investigate the PFC's role in HPA axis regulation during a psychosocial stress exposure in 14 healthy humans. Regional brain metabolism was assessed using positron emission tomography (PET) and injection of fluoro-18-deoxyglucose (FDG). Depending on the exact location within the PFC, increased glucose metabolic rate was associated with lower or higher salivary cortisol concentration in response to a psychosocial stress condition. Metabolic glucose rate in the rostral medial PFC (mPFC) (Brodman area (BA) 9 and BA 10) was negatively associated with stress-induced salivary cortisol increases. Furthermore, metabolic glucose rate in these regions was inversely coupled with changes in glucose metabolic rate in other areas, known to be involved in HPA axis regulation such as the amygdala/hippocampal region. In contrast, metabolic glucose rate in areas more lateral to the mPFC was positively associated with saliva cortisol. Subjective ratings on task stressfulness, task controllability and self-reported dispositional mood states also showed positive and negative associations with the glucose metabolic rate in prefrontal regions. These findings suggest that in humans, the PFC is activated in response to psychosocial stress and distinct prefrontal metabolic glucose patterns are linked to endocrine stress measures as well as subjective ratings on task stressfulness, controllability as well as dispositional mood states.
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Freezing is an adaptive defensive behavior that is expressed in response to an imminent threat. In prior studies with rhesus monkeys, stable individual differences in animals' propensities to freeze have been demonstrated. To understand the factors associated with these individual differences, freezing behavior was examined in infant rhesus monkeys and their mothers, in conjunction with levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol. In both mothers and infants, basal cortisol levels were positively correlated with freezing duration. Additionally, the number of offspring a mother had was negatively correlated with her infant's cortisol level. These findings suggest a link between basal cortisol levels and an animal's propensity to freeze, as well as a mechanism by which maternal experience may affect infants' cortisol levels.
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Prior studies assessing the relation between negative affective traits and cortisol have yielded inconsistent results. Two studies assessed the relation between individual differences in repressive-defensiveness and basal salivary cortisol levels. Experiment 1 assessed midafternoon salivary cortisol levels in men classified as repressors, high-anxious, or low-anxious. In Experiment 2, more rigorous controls were applied as salivary cortisol levels in women and men were assessed at 3 times of day on 3 separate days. In both studies, as hypothesized, repressors and high-anxious participants demonstrated higher basal cortisol levels than low-anxious participants. These findings suggest that both heightened distress and the inhibition of distress may be independently linked to relative elevations in cortisol. Also discussed is the possible mediational role of individual differences in responsivity to, or mobilization for, uncertainty or change.
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Children with an anxious temperament (AT) are at risk for developing psychiatric disorders along the internalizing spectrum, including anxiety and depression. Like these disorders, AT is a multidimensional phenotype and children with extreme anxiety show varying mixtures of physiological, behavioral, and other symptoms. Using a well-validated juvenile monkey model of AT, we addressed the degree to which this phenotypic heterogeneity reflects fundamental differences or similarities in the underlying neurobiology. The rhesus macaque is optimal for studying AT because children and young monkeys express the anxious phenotype in similar ways and have similar neurobiology. Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG)-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) in 238 freely behaving monkeys identified brain regions where metabolism predicted variation in three dimensions of the AT phenotype: hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity, freezing behavior, and expressive vocalizations. We distinguished brain regions that predicted all three dimensions of the phenotype from those that selectively predicted a single dimension. Elevated activity in the central nucleus of the amygdala and the anterior hippocampus was consistently found across individuals with different presentations of AT. In contrast, elevated activity in the lateral anterior hippocampus was selective to individuals with high levels of HPA activity, and decreased activity in the motor cortex (M1) was selective to those with high levels of freezing behavior. Furthermore, activity in these phenotype-selective regions mediated relations between amygdala metabolism and different expressions of anxiety. These findings provide a framework for understanding the mechanisms that lead to heterogeneity in the clinical presentation of internalizing disorders and set the stage for developing improved interventions.
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BACKGROUND: Increasingly, researchers attend to both positive and negative aspects of mental health. Such distinctions call for clarification of whether psychological well-being and ill-being comprise opposite ends of a bipolar continuum, or are best construed as separate, independent dimensions of mental health. Biology can help resolve this query--bipolarity predicts 'mirrored' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being correlate similarly with biomarkers, but show opposite directional signs), whereas independence predicts 'distinct' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being have different biological signatures). METHODS: Multiple aspects of psychological well-being (eudaimonic, hedonic) and ill-being (depression, anxiety, anger) were assessed in a sample of aging women (n = 135, mean age = 74) on whom diverse neuroendocrine (salivary cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA-S) and cardiovascular factors (weight, waist-hip ratio, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total/HDL cholesterol, glycosylated hemoglobin) were also measured. RESULTS: Measures of psychological well-being and ill-being were significantly linked with numerous biomarkers, with some associations being more strongly evident for respondents aged 75+. Outcomes for seven biomarkers supported the distinct hypothesis, while findings for only two biomarkers supported the mirrored hypothesis. CONCLUSION: This research adds to the growing literature on how psychological well-being and mental maladjustment are instantiated in biology. Population-based inquiries and challenge studies constitute important future directions.
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Although several studies have examined anterior asymmetric brain electrical activity and cortisol in infants, children, and adults, the direct association between asymmetry and cortisol has not systematically been reported. In nonhuman primates, greater relative right anterior activation has been associated with higher cortisol levels. The current study examines the relation between frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry and cortisol (basal and reactive) and withdrawal-related behaviors (fear and sadness) in 6-month-old infants. As predicted, the authors found that higher basal and reactive cortisol levels were associated with extreme right EEG asymmetry. EEG during the withdrawal-negative affect task was associated with fear and sadness behaviors. Results are interpreted in the context of the previous primate work, and some putative mechanisms are discussed.
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BACKGROUND: Excessive behavioral inhibition during childhood marks anxious temperament and is a risk factor for the development of anxiety and affective disorders. Studies in nonhuman primates can provide important information related to the expression of this risk factor, since threat-induced freezing in rhesus monkeys is a trait-like characteristic analogous to human behavioral inhibition. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and amygdala are part of a circuit involved in the processing of emotions and associated physiological responses. Earlier work demonstrated involvement of the primate central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) in mediating anxious temperament. This study assessed the role of the primate OFC in mediating anxious temperament and its involvement in fear responses. METHODS: Twelve adolescent rhesus monkeys were studied (six lesion and six control monkeys). Lesions were targeted at regions of the OFC that are most interconnected with the amygdala. Behavior and physiological parameters were assessed before and after the lesions. RESULTS: The OFC lesions significantly decreased threat-induced freezing and marginally decreased fearful responses to a snake. The lesions also resulted in a leftward shift in frontal brain electrical activity consistent with a reduction in anxiety. The lesions did not significantly decrease hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) concentrations of corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF). CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate a role for the OFC in mediating anxious temperament and fear-related responses in adolescent primates. Because of the similarities between rhesus monkey threat-induced freezing and childhood behavioral inhibition, these findings are relevant to understanding mechanisms underlying anxious temperament in humans.
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This study, based on a sample of 172 children, examined the relation between average afternoon salivary cortisol levels measured at home at age 4.5 years and socioemotional adjustment a year and a half later, as reported by mothers, fathers, and teachers. Cortisol levels were hypothesized to be positively associated with withdrawal-type behaviors (e.g., internalizing, social wariness) and inversely related to approach-type behaviors, both negative and positive (e.g., externalizing, school engagement). Higher cortisol levels at age 4.5 predicted more internalizing behavior and social wariness as reported by teachers and mothers, although child gender moderated the relation between cortisol and mother report measures. An inverse relation was found between boys' cortisol levels and father report of externalizing behavior. A marginal inverse relation was found between child cortisol levels and teacher report of school engagement. Behavior assessed concurrently with cortisol collection did not account for the prospective relations observed,suggesting that cortisol adds uniquely to an understanding of behavioral development.
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BACKGROUND: Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system activation is adaptive in response to stress, and HPA dysregulation occurs in stress-related psychopathology. It is important to understand the mechanisms that modulate HPA output, yet few studies have addressed the neural circuitry associated with HPA regulation in primates and humans. Using high-resolution F-18-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) in rhesus monkeys, we assessed the relation between individual differences in brain activity and HPA function across multiple contexts that varied in stressfulness. METHODS: Using a logical AND conjunctions analysis, we assessed cortisol and brain metabolic activity with FDG-PET in 35 adolescent rhesus monkeys exposed to two threat and two home-cage conditions. To test the robustness of our findings, we used similar methods in an archival data set. In this data set, brain metabolic activity and cortisol were assessed in 17 adolescent male rhesus monkeys that were exposed to three stress-related contexts. RESULTS: Results from the two studies revealed that subgenual prefrontal cortex (PFC) metabolism (Brodmann's area 25/24) consistently predicted individual differences in plasma cortisol concentrations regardless of the context in which brain activity and cortisol were assessed. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that activation in subgenual PFC may be related to HPA output across a variety of contexts (including familiar settings and novel or threatening situations). Individuals prone to elevated subgenual PFC activity across multiple contexts may be individuals who consistently show heightened cortisol and may be at risk for stress-related HPA dysregulation.
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We have developed a low dose Mindfulness-Based Intervention (MBI-ld) that reduces the time committed to meetings and formal mindfulness practice, while conducting the sessions during the workday. This reduced the barriers commonly mentioned for non-participation in mindfulness programs. In a controlled randomized trial we studied university faculty and staff (n=186) who were found to have an elevated CRP level,>3.0 mg/ml, and who either had, or were at risk for cardiovascular disease. This study was designed to evaluate if MBI-ld could produce a greater decrease in CRP, IL-6 and cortisol than an active control group receiving a lifestyle education program when measured at the end of the 2 month interventions. We found that MBI-ld significantly enhanced mindfulness by 2-months and it was maintained for up to a year when compared to the education control. No significant changes were noted between interventions in cortisol, IL-6 levels or self-reported measures of perceived stress, depression and sleep quality at 2-months. Although not statistically significant (p=.08), the CRP level at 2-months was one mg/ml lower in the MBI-ld group than in the education control group, a change which may have clinical significance (Ridker et al., 2000; Wassel et al., 2010). A larger MBI-ld effect on CRP (as compared to control) occurred among participants who had a baseline BMI <30 (-2.67 mg/ml) than for those with BMI >30 (-0.18 mg/ml). We conclude that MBI-ld should be more fully investigated as a low-cost self-directed complementary strategy for decreasing inflammation, and it seems most promising for non-obese subjects.
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Psychological stress is a major provocative factor of symptoms in chronic inflammatory conditions. In recent years, interest in addressing stress responsivity through meditation training in health-related domains has increased astoundingly, despite a paucity of evidence that reported benefits are specific to meditation practice. We designed the present study to rigorously compare an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention to a well-matched active control intervention, the Health Enhancement Program (HEP) in ability to reduce psychological stress and experimentally-induced inflammation. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was used to induce psychological stress and inflammation was produced using topical application of capsaicin cream to forearm skin. Immune and endocrine measures of inflammation and stress were collected both before and after MBSR training. Results show those randomized to MBSR and HEP training had comparable post-training stress-evoked cortisol responses, as well as equivalent reductions in self-reported psychological distress and physical symptoms. However, MBSR training resulted in a significantly smaller post-stress inflammatory response compared to HEP, despite equivalent levels of stress hormones. These results suggest behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity may be of therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions. Moreover, mindfulness practice, in particular, may be more efficacious in symptom relief than the well-being promoting activities cultivated in the HEP program.

Psychological stress is a major provocative factor of symptoms in chronic inflammatory conditions. In recent years, interest in addressing stress responsivity through meditation training in health-related domains has increased astoundingly, despite a paucity of evidence that reported benefits are specific to meditation practice. We designed the present study to rigorously compare an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention to a well-matched active control intervention, the Health Enhancement Program (HEP) in ability to reduce psychological stress and experimentally-induced inflammation. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was used to induce psychological stress and inflammation was produced using topical application of capsaicin cream to forearm skin. Immune and endocrine measures of inflammation and stress were collected both before and after MBSR training. Results show those randomized to MBSR and HEP training had comparable post-training stress-evoked cortisol responses, as well as equivalent reductions in self-reported psychological distress and physical symptoms. However, MBSR training resulted in a significantly smaller post-stress inflammatory response compared to HEP, despite equivalent levels of stress hormones. These results suggest behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity may be of therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions. Moreover, mindfulness practice, in particular, may be more efficacious in symptom relief than the well-being promoting activities cultivated in the HEP program.
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OBJECTIVE: In this case study, we describe the effects of a particular individual's concentration/meditation technique on autonomic nervous system activity and the innate immune response. The study participant holds several world records with regard to tolerating extreme cold and claims that he can influence his autonomic nervous system and thereby his innate immune response. METHODS: The individual's ex vivo cytokine response (stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells with lipopolysaccharide [LPS]) was determined before and after an 80-minute full-body ice immersion during which the individual practiced his concentration/meditation technique. Furthermore, the individual's in vivo innate immune response was studied while practicing his concentration/mediation technique during human endotoxemia (intravenous administration of 2 ng/kg LPS). The results from the endotoxemia experiment were compared with a historical cohort of 112 individuals who participated in endotoxemia experiments in our institution. RESULTS: The ex vivo proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine response was greatly attenuated by concentration/meditation during ice immersion, accompanied by high levels of cortisol. In the endotoxemia experiment, concentration/meditation resulted in increased circulating concentrations of catecholamines, and plasma cortisol concentrations were higher than in any of the previously studied participants. The individual's in vivo cytokine response and clinical symptoms after LPS administration were remarkably low compared with previously studied participants. CONCLUSIONS: The concentration/meditation technique used by this particular individual seems to evoke a controlled stress response. This response is characterized by sympathetic nervous system activation and subsequent catecholamine/cortisol release, which seems to attenuate the innate immune response.
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