Monday, February 22, 2016

A mindfulness meditation intervention enhances connectivity of brain executive and default modes and lowers inflammation markers.

Creswell et al. recruited 35 stressed-out adult job-seekers, getting half to participate in an intensive three-day mindfulness meditation retreat while the other half completed a three day relaxation retreat program without the mindfulness component. Brain scans and blood samples were obtained before and four months after the program. The result was that mindfulness meditation correlated with reduced blood levels of interleukin-6, a marker of stress and inflammation, and increased functional connectivity between the participants’ resting default mode network and areas in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex important to attention and executive control. Neither of these changes were seen in participants who received only the relaxation training. The suggestion is that the brain changes cause the decrease in inflammatory markers. Here are some clips of context from their introduction:
Mindfulness meditation training programs, which train receptive attention and awareness to one’s present moment experience, have been shown to improve a broad range of stress-related psychiatric and physical health outcomes in initial randomized controlled trials...recent well-controlled studies indicate that mindfulness meditation training may reduce markers of inflammation (C Reactive Protein, Interleukin-6 (IL-6), neurogenic inflammation) in stressed individuals.
One possibility is that mindfulness meditation training alters resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) of brain networks implicated in mind wandering (the Default Mode Network, DMN) and executive control (the Executive Control Network, EC), which in turn improves emotion regulation, stress resilience, and stress-related health outcomes in at-risk patient populations.... a cross-sectional study (N=25) showed that advanced mindfulness meditation practitioners had increased functional connectivity of a key hub in the default mode network (DMN) (i.e., posterior cingulate cortex) with regions considered to be important in top down executive control (EC) (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, dorsal ACC), both at rest and during a guided mindfulness meditation practice. This coupling of one’s DMN at rest with regions of the EC network may be important for emotion regulation and stress resilience effects, as greater activation and functional connectivity of EC regions, such as the dlPFC, is associated with reduced pain, negative affect, and stress.
Here we provide the first experimental test of whether an intensive 3-day mindfulness meditation training intervention (relative to a relaxation training intervention) alters DMN connectivity and circulating IL-6 in a high stress unemployed job-seeking community sample. IL-6 is an established clinical health biomarker that is elevated in high stress populations and is associated with elevated cardiovascular disease and mortality risk... unemployment is a well-known chronic stressor that can foster a loss of control, helplessness, and financial setbacks, and unemployment is associated with elevated inflammation. Building on initial cross-sectional evidence (17), we hypothesized that mindfulness meditation training would increase rsFC between the DMN and regions implicated in attention and executive control (dlPFC and dACC). Moreover, we tested whether mindfulness meditation training (relative to relaxation training) decreased circulating IL-6 at 4-month follow up, and whether pre-post intervention increases in DMN-dlPFC rsFC mediated IL-6 improvements at 4-month follow-up.

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