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OBJECTIVE: The underlying changes in biological processes that are associated with reported changes in mental and physical health in response to meditation have not been systematically explored. We performed a randomized, controlled study on the effects on brain and immune function of a well-known and widely used 8-week clinical training program in mindfulness meditation applied in a work environment with healthy employees. METHODS: We measured brain electrical activity before and immediately after, and then 4 months after an 8-week training program in mindfulness meditation. Twenty-five subjects were tested in the meditation group. A wait-list control group (N = 16) was tested at the same points in time as the meditators. At the end of the 8-week period, subjects in both groups were vaccinated with influenza vaccine. RESULTS: We report for the first time significant increases in left-sided anterior activation, a pattern previously associated with positive affect, in the meditators compared with the nonmeditators. We also found significant increases in antibody titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation compared with those in the wait-list control group. Finally, the magnitude of increase in left-sided activation predicted the magnitude of antibody titer rise to the vaccine. CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate that a short program in mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable effects on brain and immune function. These findings suggest that meditation may change brain and immune function in positive ways and underscore the need for additional research.
- Contemplation by Applied Subject,
- Psychiatry and Contemplation,
- Medical Research on Contemplative Practice,
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction / Cognitive Therapy,
- Psychotherapy and Contemplation,
- Health Care and Contemplation,
- Neuroscience and Contemplation,
- Physiology and Contemplation,
- Science and Contemplation
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.
Reliable individual differences in electrophysiological measures of prefrontal activation asymmetry exist and predict dispositional mood and other psychological and biological indices of affective style. Subjects with greater relative right-sided activation report more dispositional negative affect and react with greater intensity to negative emotional challenges than their left-activated counterparts. We previously established that such individual differences in measures of prefrontal activation asymmetry were related to basal NK function, with left-activated subjects exhibiting higher levels of NK function than right-activated subjects. The present study was designed to replicate and extend these earlier findings. Subjects were tested in five experimental sessions over the course of 1 year. During the first two sessions, baseline measures of brain electrical activity were obtained to derive indices of asymmetric activation. During sessions 3 and 4, blood samples were taken during a nonstressful period in the semester and then 24 h prior to the subjects' most important final examination. During session 5, subjects were presented with positive and negative film clips 30 min in duration. Blood samples were obtained before and after the film clips. Subjects with greater relative right-sided activation at baseline showed lower levels of basal NK function. They also showed a greater decrease in NK function during the final exam period compared to the baseline period. Subjects with greater relative left-sided activation showed a larger increase in NK function from before to after the positive film clip. These findings indicate that individual differences in electrophysiological measures of asymmetric prefrontal activation account for a significant portion of variance in both basal levels of, and change in NK function.
OBJECTIVES: This study investigated the relationships between a mindfulness-based stress reduction meditation program for early stage breast and prostate cancer patients and quality of life, mood states, stress symptoms, lymphocyte counts, and cytokine production. METHODS: Forty-nine patients with breast cancer and 10 with prostate cancer participated in an 8-week MBSR program that incorporated relaxation, meditation, gentle yoga, and daily home practice. Demographic and health behavior variables, quality of life (EORTC QLQ C-30), mood (POMS), stress (SOSI), and counts of NK, NKT, B, T total, T helper, and T cytotoxic cells, as well as NK and T cell production of TNF, IFN-γ, IL-4, and IL-10 were assessed pre- and postintervention. RESULTS: Fifty-nine and 42 patients were assessed pre- and postintervention, respectively. Significant improvements were seen in overall quality of life, symptoms of stress, and sleep quality. Although there were no significant changes in the overall number of lymphocytes or cell subsets, T cell production of IL-4 increased and IFN-γ decreased, whereas NK cell production of IL-10 decreased. These results are consistent with a shift in immune profile from one associated with depressive symptoms to a more normal profile. CONCLUSIONS: MBSR participation was associated with enhanced quality of life and decreased stress symptoms in breast and prostate cancer patients. This study is also the first to show changes in cancer-related cytokine production associated with program participation.
Functional neuroimaging investigations in the fields of social neuroscience and neuroeconomics indicate that the anterior insular cortex (AI) is consistently involved in empathy, compassion, and interpersonal phenomena such as fairness and cooperation. These findings suggest that AI plays an important role in social emotions, hereby defined as affective states that arise when we interact with other people and that depend on the social context. After we link the role of AI in social emotions to interoceptive awareness and the representation of current global emotional states, we will present a model suggesting that AI is not only involved in representing current states, but also in predicting emotional states relevant to the self and others. This model also proposes that AI enables us to learn about emotional states as well as about the uncertainty attached to events, and implies that AI plays a dominant role in decision making in complex and uncertain environments. Our review further highlights that dorsal and ventro-central, as well as anterior and posterior subdivisions of AI potentially subserve different functions and guide different aspects of behavioral regulation. We conclude with a section summarizing different routes to understanding other people’s actions, feelings and thoughts, emphasizing the notion that the predominant role of AI involves understanding others’ feeling and bodily states rather than their action intentions or abstract beliefs.