It is a fact that for the last 40 years life expectancy around the world has increased significantly. Nowadays people tend to live 10 years longer than back in the 70s. However, this positive change comes with some not so good tendencies. People may live longer but with the rise of the years the risk of mental illness and neurodegenerative disease increases, too. When in their late-20s, an individual’s brain begins to shrink slowly in volume and to decrease in weight. This can lead to loss of some of the brain’s abilities to function properly.
The good news is that researchers from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have found a way to decrease the risk of such brain diseases.
In a previous study, they had found a connection between meditation and preservation of the brain’s white matter despite the aging process.
Recently, a new study by UCLA showed that meditation can help preserve gray matter as well. The gray matter is the brain’s tissue that contains neurons.
The main focus of the UCLA researchers was the connection between gray matter and age. They studied the brains of 100 individuals. 50 of them were people who had been practicing meditation for years and the other half of the participants- not. The scientists compared both of the groups’ brains and found that all of the participants have lost gray matter with age. What distinguished the meditating people from the non-meditating ones was that the volume of gray matter in their brains had not shrunk as significantly as the non-meditating people’s. The article was released in the online edition of the Frontiers in Psychology journal.
Dr. Florian Kurth says that the other researchers and he were amazed of the extent of the difference. He is a co-author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center. He also adds: “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating.
Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
Dr. Eileen Luders is the first author of the study and assistant professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She says that there are many studies that are examining factors that may increase the risk of mental illness. But significantly less attention is paid to finding new ways to improve brain health.
In another study, the researchers gathered 28 men and 22 women that were from 24 to 77 years old. The participants who meditated had been practicing it for 4 to 46 years (the average was 20 years). Using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging, the scientists scanned the brains of both groups’ brains. In that way, they managed to see the relation between gray matter loss and aging. They also found that there were large sections of gray matter in the meditating people’s brains that were better preserved.
Despite this revelation, researchers say they can’t draw a direct connection between meditation and maintaining gray matter in the brain because its loss depends on many other factors like lifestyle, personality, genetics and other.
“Still, our results are promising. Hopefully they will stimulate other studies exploring the potential of meditation to better preserve our aging brains and minds,” Luders said.