There is evidence that mindfulness meditation can improve how we age and even fight disease. Yet, little is known about the brain changes behind the effects.
A new study may offer clues. The results suggest this type of meditation lowers levels of interleukin-6, which is involved in inflammation.
“We’ve now seen that mindfulness meditation training can reduce inflammatory biomarkers in several initial studies, and this new work sheds light into what mindfulness training is doing to the brain to produce these inflammatory health benefits,”
For the randomized controlled trial, 35 job-seeking, stressed adults were exposed to either an intensive three-day mindfulness meditation retreat program or a well-matched relaxation retreat program that did not have a mindfulness component.
All participants completed a five-minute resting state brain scan before and after the three-day program. They also provided blood samples right before the intervention began and at a four-month follow-up.
The brain scans showed that mindfulness meditation training increased the functional connectivity of the participants’ resting default mode network in areas important to attention and executive control, namely the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Participants who received the relaxation training did not show these brain changes.
The participants who completed the mindfulness meditation program also had reduced IL-6 levels, and the changes in brain functional connectivity coupling accounted for the lower inflammation levels.
“We think that these brain changes provide a neurobiological marker for improved executive control and stress resilience, such that mindfulness meditation training improves your brain’s ability to help you manage stress, and these changes improve a broad range of stress-related health outcomes, such as your inflammatory health,” Creswell says.