Does Meditation Enhance Cognition and Brain Plasticity?
Meditation practices have various health benefits including the possibility of preserving cognition and preventing dementia. While the mechanisms remain investigational, studies show that meditation may affect multiple pathways that could play a role in brain aging and mental fitness. For example, meditation may reduce stress-induced cortisol secretion and this could have neuroprotective effects potentially via elevating levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Meditation may also potentially have beneficial effects on lipid profiles and lower oxidative stress, both of which could in turn reduce the risk for cerebrovascular disease and age-related neurodegeneration. Further, meditation may potentially strengthen neuronal circuits and enhance cognitive reserve capacity. These are the theoretical bases for how meditation might enhance longevity and optimal health. Evidence to support a neuroprotective effect comes from cognitive, electroencephalogram (EEG), and structural neuroimaging studies. In one cross-sectional study, meditation practitioners were found to have a lower age-related decline in thickness of specific cortical regions. However, the enthusiasm must be balanced by the inconsistency and preliminary nature of existing studies as well as the fact that meditation comprises a heterogeneous group of practices. Key future challenges include the isolation of a potential common element in the different meditation modalities, replication of existing findings in larger randomized trials, determining the correct “dose,” studying whether findings from expert practitioners are generalizable to a wider population, and better control of the confounding genetic, dietary and lifestyle influences.
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Document Type: Research Article
Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Department of Medicine, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, California, USA
Chief, Division of Biological Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA
August 1, 2009