Brain and Body

People Who Meditate Have Lower Levels of Key Inflammation Biomarker, Study Finds

February 16, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Meditating on a beach

This biomarker has been linked to cancer and Alzheimer’s.

The list of health benefits linked with mindfulness meditation seems to be steadily growing —it’s been previously associated with slowing HIV progression, naturally increasing serotonin levels, and even shown to outperform a placebo painkiller.

Now, new research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that adults who practice mindfulness meditation have reduced levels of a key inflammation biomarker called Interleukin-6 (IL-6), even four months later.

It’s important to maintain low levels of IL-6 because, in high doses, it’s been linked to inflammation-related diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune conditions. Not only did the adults who practiced mindfulness meditation show lower levels of IL-6, they also showed increased connectivity in their brains.

"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," lead researcher David Creswell from Carnegie Mellon University said in a press release.

SEE ALSO: How Meditation Changes the Brain

The team divided 35 adults, who were all seeking jobs and had high levels of stress, into two groups — one group underwent an intensive three-day mindfulness meditation retreat program while the other group completed a well-matched relaxation retreat program that didn’t have a mindfulness component.

All of the participants completed a five-minute resting state brain scan before and after the three-day program, and also provided blood samples right before the retreats and again at a four-month follow-up.

After reviewing the brain scans, the scientists observed that the mindfulness meditation had increased the brain’s functional connectivity, particularly in the areas that play an important role in attention and executive control. These changes weren’t seen in the people who received the relaxation training instead of the mindfulness meditation.

The researchers also saw that the mindfulness meditation group had reduced levels of IL-6 in their blood samples even four months after the retreat — pretty impressive, to say the least. Once again, this benefit wasn’t seen in the relaxation group.

"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," said Creswell.

It’s important to point out the study’s small sample size — just because these results were observed in a handful of adults doesn’t mean the same would hold true for the general public. Further research will need to be done in order to confirm these findings, but it’s definitely an exciting start.

The ever-growing evidence for meditation’s positive effects on mind and body is nothing to be shrugged off — it can reduce racial prejudices, reduce PTSD symptoms, and who knows? Maybe you’ll even find that inner peace you’ve been searching for.

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