Study finds link between meditation, the endocrine system, health and wellbeing

New collaborative research at Queen's University Belfast and Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia aims to better understand the link between meditation and improved mental health outcomes.

Despite the growing popularity of meditation practice around the world to address a number of health issues, there is limited evidence to support this.

While stress is common among everyone at some point, persistent stress can eventually contribute to disease and mental illness. The endocrine system is particularly important in the management of stress but the functioning of the endocrine system and wellbeing have been scarcely investigated.

The research team reviewed a large number of previous studies and analyzed how meditation impacted a number of hormones related to stress. The study, now published in Cell Press, found a connection between meditation, the endocrine system and health and wellbeing.

Dr. Chantal Ski, Author and Reader in Cardiovascular Health at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's University Belfast, said:

Through the comprehensive literature review, we found that there is a clear link between meditation and stress reduction. We focused on studies that analyzed how meditation affected the endocrine system and a number of interconnected systems that regulate stress such as the Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal (HPA), the Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Thyroid (HPT) axis and the Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone (RAA) system."

Dr. Michaela Pascoe, Lead and Corresponding Author on the research and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University, Melbourne said:

This work shows that meditation influences the regulation of the HPA axis, which may reduce stress levels. Another key finding was linked with the Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Thyroid (HPT) axis, which determines and regulates thyroid hormone production and is particularly associated with depression and anxiety. The findings indicate that meditation and yoga influenced the HPA axis to a varying degree.

The Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone (RAA) System regulates blood pressure, electrolytes and fluid balance. Although the scope of research is currently limited, it seems that meditation may also influence the RAA system, corresponding with improved well-being and changes in hormonal stress."

Meditation is becoming increasingly popular, with over a quarter of UK adults practicing meditation as a therapy. A recent study in the US cited a threefold increase in practice over the last five years.

Dr. Ski added:

Increased knowledge of the interrelationships between the endocrine system and meditation will lead to identification of specific meditation practices that are of most benefit to the health and wellbeing of various population. Given the multitude and severity of health issues related to persistent stress, it is paramount that more research is carried out in this area to help inform effective future healthcare policies among different groups as this could only lead to huge health benefits as well as financial benefits with more effective treatments in place."

Dr. Pascoe concluded:

Most studies to date have explored the effect of meditation practice on the HPA axis and much more research is needed to examine other aspects of the endocrine system. Whilst it is intriguing that various meditation practices appear to induce changes in endocrine function and consequently be associated with improvements in mental health, the underlying associations and mechanisms that might operate are unclear, though likely involve psychological, physiological, and neurological processes."

Source:
Journal reference:

Pascoe, M.C., et al. (2020) Meditation and Endocrine Health and Wellbeing. Cell Press. doi.org/10.1016/j.tem.2020.01.012.

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