Psychoneuroimmunology and Anxiety Disorders

Stress, Chronic Diseases, and Psychoneuroimmunology

Stress, Depression, Inflammation, and Psychoneuroimmunology

The incidence of psychiatric disorders including anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) is getting higher and higher in the modern world (Furtado and Katzman, 2015). These problems have resulted in severe public and economic problems.

With the development in psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), a question is that “what is the role of the immune system in these conditions”? How can the knowledge be used for psychiatric treatment?

With the detection of the alterations in the cortisol and cytokine concentrations, the stress-associated disorders have been related to the dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (Furtado and Katzman, 2015). Such findings may be used for the discovery of biomarkers and treatment targets.

Further studies in psychoneuroimmunology of the problems such as anxiety and PTSD may help elucidate the complex mechanisms of these disorders (Furtado and Katzman, 2015). The identification of the neuroinflammatory pathways may contribute to the discovery of better therapeutic strategies.

Reference:

Furtado M, Katzman MA. Neuroinflammatory pathways in anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and obsessive compulsive disorders. Psychiatry Res. 2015 Sep 30;229(1-2):37-48. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2015.05.036.

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Stress and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Psychiatric Disorders among Children and Adolescents

Inflammation, immune dysfunctions, and abnormal cytokine levels have been closely related to psychiatric disorders among adult patients in recent studies in psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). How about the associations between cytokine concentrations and psychosocial stress in children and adolescents (C&A)?

A recent study analyzed the profiles of cytokines in association with psychosocial stressors among 77 patients between 8 and 17 years old (Gariup et al., 2015). The patients had acute psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

The study found elevated concentrations of interleukin (IL)-1β, IL6, IL8, IFN-γ-induced protein-10 (IP-10), monocyte chemoattractant protein (MCP)-1, and monocytes among the patient population (Gariup et al., 2015). Elevated level of stress was also observed in the group. The stress level was correlated with the inflammatory markers including IL-1β, IL-8, and MCP-1 among children.

Furthermore, the levels of IL8, IP10, and monocyte absolute count were categorized as the independent predictors (Gariup et al., 2015). These findings are meaningful for expanding the PNI models to children and adolescents.

Reference:

Gariup M, Gonzalez A, Lázaro L, Torres F, Serra-Pagès C, Morer A. IL-8 and the innate immunity as biomarkers in acute child and adolescent psychopathology. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015 Dec;62:233-42. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.08.017.

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Stress, Dysfunctional Attitudes, and Genetic Factors

What are the relationships among dysfunctional attitudes, stressful events, and genetic factors? How can these factors influence daily emotions?

A multi-level daily diary study among 104 young adults was done to find out the links (Conway et al., 2015). The study showed that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) Val66Met genotype was associated with elevated negative emotions in stressful environment.

In addition, internalizing symptoms may also be related to such negative emotions. The study indicated the close connections among the BDNF genotype, stress, and daily emotional fluctuations (Conway et al., 2015). However, the roles of dysfunctional attitudes and maladaptive beliefs still need to be determined.

The findings suggest that investigations at multiple levels may be necessary for the better understanding of psychopathology and prediction of emotional changes.

Reference:

Conway CC, Slavich GM, Hammen C. Dysfunctional Attitudes and Affective Responses to Daily Stressors: Separating Cognitive, Genetic, and Clinical Influences on Stress Reactivity. Cognit Ther Res. 2015 Jun;39(3):366-377.

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What is Psychodermatology

Stress, Chronic Diseases, and Psychoneuroimmunology

Stress, Depression, Inflammation, and Psychoneuroimmunology

Skin disorders are often associated with psychological conditions such as stress and anxiety. With more and more evidences linking mind and body, some novel disciplines are emerging, such as Psychodermatology. Psychodermatology focuses on the interactions and networks between the mind and skin (Jafferany and Franca, 2016). The development in of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) may also help understand the psychosocial factors in skin disorders.

Knowledge of the psychocutaneous connections may help improve the therapy of psychodermatological disorders with the management of psychosocial distress, anxiety, and depression (Jafferany and Franca, 2016). Other strategies may include making improvements targeting social isolation and promoting self-esteem among patients with skin diseases.

Studies in psychodermatology have indicated that both psychological and pharmaceutical methods can be applied for skin diseases with psychocutaneous connections (Jafferany and Franca, 2016). More developments in psychodermatology and psychoneuroimmunology would enable better and comprehensive strategies for complex diseases including skin disorders.

Reference:

Jafferany M, Franca K. Psychodermatology: Basics Concepts. Acta Derm Venereol. 2016 Aug 23;96(217):35-7. doi: 10.2340/00015555-2378.

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Stress, Childhood Trauma, and Diseases

Psychological stress is an essential factor in health and illnesses. Stress has been closely related to the onset and progression of various psychiatric and physical disorders such as anxiety, depression, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, heart diseases, pain, and cancers (Slavich, 2016).

Stress may have a critical role in premature aging and associated diseases. Studies about the associations between stress and health have been relying on self-report and interview-based methods (Slavich, 2016). Recent development in the online systems may provide new means for improving such studies about stress-disease connections in the lifespan.

Psychosocial stress during childhood may influence the development of the nervous and the immune systems, their long-term functioning, as well as the interactions between them (Danese and Lewis, 2017). Studies in psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) may provide a comprehensive model for healing psychopathology associated with early-life stress and childhood trauma.

As a potential predictor, stress in the early life may lead to neurobiological changes and inflammation in later life. Correlations have been observed among childhood trauma, inflammation, and clinical patterns (Danese and Lewis, 2017).

Such associations may have implications for potential therapeutic approaches to prevent the occurrence of clinical symptoms based on the prediction from childhood trauma. For example, preventive and treatment methods may focus on the improvement of adaptive immunity and anti-inflammation (Danese and Lewis, 2017). The influence of childhood trauma can also be considered for improving treatment outcomes.

References:

Danese A, J Lewis S. Psychoneuroimmunology of Early-Life Stress: The Hidden Wounds of Childhood Trauma? Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Jan;42(1):99-114. doi: 10.1038/npp.2016.198.

Slavich GM. Life Stress and Health: A Review of Conceptual Issues and Recent Findings. Teach Psychol. 2016 Oct;43(4):346-355.

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Anxiety, Depression, and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Stress, Chronic Diseases, and Psychoneuroimmunology

Stress, Depression, Inflammation, and Psychoneuroimmunology

A recent study investigated the association between psychosocial reserve capacity and the conditions of anxiety and depression (Zamora-Racaza et al., 2017). The study was done among 235 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) from Southern California (SoCal) in the United States and Manila in Philippines.

The study tested psychosocial reserve capacity parameters including self-esteem and coping skills (Zamora-Racaza et al., 2017). The study also collected the records about socioeconomic status (SES). The study found that more than 50% of the patients had elevated levels of anxiety.

In addition, those with lower levels of self-esteem showed elevated levels of anxiety and depression (Zamora-Racaza et al., 2017). Patients from SoCal with decreased levels of optimism, personal mastery, and social support showed higher levels of anxiety and depression.

The study indicated that lower levels of psychosocial reserve capacity may be associated with higher levels of vulnerabilities, disease burden, and mental stress (Zamora-Racaza et al., 2017). Furthermore, decreased levels of self-esteem, optimism, and coping skills may be closely related to the conditions of anxiety and depression. More studies would be helpful to find out the detailed connections between anxiety and SLE.

Reference:

Zamora-Racaza G, Azizoddin DR, Ishimori ML, Ormseth SR, Wallace DJ, Penserga EG, Sumner L, Ayeroff J, Draper T, Nicassio PM, Weisman MH. Role of psychosocial reserve capacity in anxiety and depression in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. Int J Rheum Dis. 2017 Mar 6. doi: 10.1111/1756-185X.13033.

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Anxiety, Depression, and Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis (SAR)

Increasing evidences have indicated the strong connections between seasonal allergic
rhinitis (SAR) and psychological conditions, especially anxiety and depression. A recent study done in Germany explored the roles of anxiety and depression in the patients with SAR (Trikojat et al. 2017).

The study tested allergic, inflammatory and endocrine markers among 41 SAR patients and made comparisons with 42 healthy subjects during both pollen season and non-pollen season (Trikojat et al. 2017). In the study, the profiles of inflammatory cytokines included interleukins “IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, IL-17, IFN-γ, TNF-α” and
Immunoglobulin-E (IgE). The researchers also examined hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) and sleep quality.

The study indicated that in comparison with non-symptom seasons and healthy subjects, the patients with SAR had much higher levels of depression (Trikojat et al. 2017). The conditions of depression were also related to the inflammatory parameters including IL-6, the ratios of IL-6/IL-10 and IFN-γ/IL-10, as well as poor sleep quality.

These observations revealed the strong connections between acute allergy and affective conditions, especially anxiety and depression (Trikojat et al. 2017). In addition, such connections may be mediated by inflammation and poor sleep conditions. Further studies are still needed to find out the detailed mechanisms and pathways that link anxiety with allergy.

Reference:

Trikojat K, Luksch H, Rösen-Wolff A, Plessow F, Schmitt J, Buske-Kirschbaum A. “Allergic mood” – Depressive and anxiety symptoms in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR) and their association to inflammatory, endocrine, and allergic markers. Brain Behav Immun. 2017 May 8. pii: S0889-1591(17)30151-4. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2017.05.005.

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Meditation and Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is featured with emotional biases and inaccurate negative self-beliefs. In a recent study, researchers investigated the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotional responses and the regulation of negative self-beliefs in 16 patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD) (Goldin and Gross, 2010).

They measured the brain-behavior indices using functional MRI. The study found that those patients who finished the mindfulness-based stress reduction program had obvious improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as self-esteem (Goldin and Gross, 2010).

During the breath-focused attention task, these patients had reduced negative emotional experience and decreased amygdala activities. In addition, they had enhanced activities in the brain areas involved in attentional deployment. The training decreased emotional reactivity but promoted emotion regulation, with the decrease in SAD-associated avoidance behaviors, symptoms, and responses to negative self-beliefs (Goldin and Gross, 2010).

The study suggest that mindfulness-based stress reduction programs may be an effective intervention in changing cognitive-affective activities, adjust emotional responding, and relieve the problems of stress, anxiety, and depression.

References:

Goldin, P. R. and Gross, J. J. (2010) Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion 10, 83-91.

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The Effects of Yoga and Buddhist Counseling on Anxiety

Educational programs for lifestyle modification and stress management can be very effective for remarkably reducing anxiety in a period as short as 10 days. Researchers in India examined the short-term impacts of a lifestyle intervention based on yoga on anxiety in normal and diseased subjects (Gupta et al., 2006). The brief but comprehensive intervention included asanas, pranayama, relaxation techniques, group support, and individualized advice. The subjects were taught about the philosophy of yoga, the place of yoga in daily life, meditation, stress management, nutrition, and knowledge about the illness.

In the study, the subjects had history of various diseases such as hypertension, coronary artery disease (CAD), diabetes mellitus, and psychiatric disorders including depression and anxiety (Gupta et al., 2006).  Many of them also had gastrointestinal problems such as non-ulcer dyspepsia, duodenal ulcers, irritable bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, chronic constipation, and thyroid disorders including hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.

The researchers measured anxiety scores on the first and last day of the program. The results showed that scores of both state and trait anxiety were decreased (Gupta et al., 2006). In addition, the anxiety levels were remarkably improved among the patients of CAD, obesity, and psychiatric disorders. The study indicates that comprehensive lifestyle programs such as the one based on yoga may provide benefits even in a relatively short period of time.

Buddhist counseling interventions may be another choice for patients suffering from anxiety. In a study done in Thailand, twenty-one patients participated in two sessions of Buddhist counseling based on the Buddhist principle (Rungreangkulkij and Wongtakee, 2008). At the 1-month follow-up, the study revealed that the scores measuring trait anxiety were lower among the participants.

In addition, the patients practiced mindfulness could accept unpleasant situations more calmly (Rungreangkulkij and Wongtakee, 2008). Among them, sixteen patients needed lower doses of anti-anxiety medications, while two patients stopped using any medications. These findings show that counseling based on Buddhist principles may benefit patients with anxiety.

References:

Gupta, N., Khera, S., et al. (2006) Effect of yoga based lifestyle intervention on state and trait anxiety. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 50, 41-47.

Rungreangkulkij, S. and Wongtakee, W. (2008) The psychological impact of Buddhist counseling for patients suffering from symptoms of anxiety. Arch Psychiatr Nurs 22, 127-134.

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Yoga and Anxiety

Different relaxation and meditation techniques may have different effects on relieving anxiety. Some techniques may induce better results than others. For example, researchers in India compared the effects of two yoga relaxation techniques on memory and state anxiety among 57 male volunteers (Subramanya and Telles, 2009). One yoga technique involving cycles of yoga postures and supine rest is called “cyclic meditation (CM)”.

The other technique is relaxation in the corpse posture called “shavasana”. The study showed that cyclical combination of yoga postures and supine rest in cyclic meditation induced improvement in memory scores immediately after the practice (Subramanya and Telles, 2009). Cyclic meditation also caused reduction in state anxiety. The effects of cyclic meditation were more significant than rest in a classical yoga relaxation posture (shavasana).

Yogic breathing techniques such as Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) may help balance the autonomic nervous system and ease psychologic and stress-related disorders (Brown and Gerbarg, 2005). Yogic breathing is also called “pranayama”, and yoga postures are called “asanas”. They are often combined with meditation.

Sudarshan Kriya Yoga has been found to have low-risk and low-cost that may benefit many disorders including stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, stress-related medical illnesses, substance abuse, and rehabilitation of criminal offenders (Brown and Gerbarg, 2005). Such yoga techniques may improve the overall well-being, mood, mental focus, and the ability of stress tolerance. A 30-minute practice every day has been suggested to have good results.

In a program called “Siddha Samadhi Yoga”, meditation is connected to “pranayama”, or breathing exercises. A study done in Brazil investigated 22 volunteers with anxiety complaints (Kozasa et al., 2008). Fourteen of the participants attended the yoga group, and 8 were in a waiting-list or control group. The volunteers were evaluated before attending the yoga program and 1 month after it. The study found that in comparison with the control group, the yoga group had significant lower scores on anxiety, depression, and tension, with higher scores in overall well-being (Kozasa et al., 2008).

References:

Brown, R. P. and Gerbarg, P. L. (2005) Sudarshan Kriya Yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression. Part II–clinical applications and guidelines. J Altern Complement Med 11, 711-717.

Kozasa, E. H., Santos, R. F., et al. (2008) Evaluation of Siddha Samadhi Yoga for anxiety and depression symptoms: a preliminary study. Psychol Rep 103, 271-274.

Subramanya, P. and Telles, S. (2009) Effect of two yoga-based relaxation techniques on memory scores and state anxiety. Biopsychosoc Med 3, 8.

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Anxiety and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

The training of mindfulness may be beneficial for people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a group treatment applying cognitive strategies focusing on mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). It integrates the practice of mindfulness meditation with cognitive theory.

The core component of the MBSR program is mindfulness meditation training. MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues (Koszycki et al., 2007). MBSR has been reported to relieve anxiety in a variety of clinical populations. MBCT has been suggested effective in preventing relapse among patients with major depression (Teasdale et al., 2000).

A study of six female and five male participants with a mean age of 49 was done in the U.S. to investigate the effects of MBCT on anxiety (Evans et al., 2008). The researchers observed significant improvements in anxiety and depressive symptoms after the MBCT training. The training also helped promote the awareness of everyday experiences. The study indicated that MBCT may be beneficial for relieving anxiety and other mood symptoms among the patients with GAD.

Another study done in the U.S. assessed the effects of mindfulness meditation on anxiety, negative affect, positive affect, and hope in college students (Sears and Kraus, 2009). Different types of meditation were compared in four groups, including brief meditation focusing on attention, brief meditation focusing on loving kindness, longer meditation combining both of the two aspects of mindfulness, as well as the control group without any intervention.

In the study, each group met weekly in one semester (Sears and Kraus, 2009). The study indicated that longer combined meditation had remarkable results on decreasing anxiety and negative affect. Such method may also enhance hope. These beneficial effects may be mediated by changes in cognitive distortions.

References:

Evans, S., Ferrando, S., et al. (2008) Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. J Anxiety Disord 22, 716-721.

Koszycki, D., Benger, M., et al. (2007) Randomized trial of a meditation-based stress reduction program and cognitive behavior therapy in generalized social anxiety disorder. Behav Res Ther 45, 2518-2526.

Sears, S. and Kraus, S. (2009) I think therefore I om: cognitive distortions and coping style as mediators for the effects of mindfulness meditation on anxiety, positive and negative affect, and hope. J Clin Psychol 65, 561-573.

Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., Ridgeway, V., Soulsby, J., & Lau, M. (2000). Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 6, 615-623.

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Depression, Anxiety, and Mindfulness-Based Programs

Non-depressed participants with a history of relapsing depression may be protected from relapse by participating in an 8-week course of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).  The researchers in the UK examined the effectiveness of MBCT on active symptoms of depression and anxiety in 13 patients with recurrent depression or anxiety (Finucane and Mercer, 2006).  The researchers conducted interviews three months after completing the program. The results of the study showed that mindfulness training was acceptable to most of the patients.

According to the study, practicing in a group was an important experience to many patients (Finucane and Mercer, 2006). More than half of the patients continued the practice even three months after the course was finished. The patients had significant lower scores measuring depression and anxiety, with remarkable improvements in both disorders. The study suggested that mindfulness based cognitive therapy may be beneficial to treat depression and anxiety in primary care.

In addition, a randomized trial done at University of Ottawa in Canada compared the effects of MB Stress Reduction (MBSR) training with a first-line psychological intervention on social anxiety disorder (SAD) (Koszycki et al., 2007). In the study, 53 patients with SAD were randomized and assigned to an 8-week program of MBSR or 12 weekly sessions of cognitive-behavioral group therapy (CBGT).

The study found that both interventions induced improvements in mood, functionality and quality of life (Koszycki et al., 2007). However, the patients receiving CBGT had lower scores of social anxiety, with greater response and remission rates. The study showed that CBGT may have better effects, and confirmed that MBSR may also benefit generalized SAD.

References:

Finucane, A. and Mercer, S. W. (2006) An exploratory mixed methods study of the acceptability and effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for patients with active depression and anxiety in primary care. BMC Psychiatry 6, 14.

Koszycki, D., Benger, M., et al. (2007) Randomized trial of a meditation-based stress reduction program and cognitive behavior therapy in generalized social anxiety disorder. Behav Res Ther 45, 2518-2526.

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Fatigue, Pain, and Stress Relief Meditation

Mental stress may deprive oxygen in muscles and cause exhaustion, tense, and ache all over the body. This is because the body’s response to psychological stress is to burn more energy. Such fast burning of energy may result in exhaustion that is hard to recover even after sleeping. This is why chronically stressed people may feel tired and fatigued all the time.

In addition, stress may also enhance the feeling of pain from injuries. Stress may lead to indigestion and stomach pain, headaches, and increase the susceptibility to infections. Meditation is a process of conserving energy through focusing the mind and relaxation. Meditation can help relief pain immediately because it can ease our emotional responses, and enable the detachment from the painful feelings.

Pain is often amplified emotionally. The detachment and reduction of the perception of pain can help soothe the sensation of pain. Natural Stress Relief meditation is a mental technique to reduce stress and anxiety through inducing a state of physiological rest with mental alertness. The meditation can be learned in a self-administered program, with one-hour of training during the first three days. After the initial training, it can be practiced regularly twice a day, for 15-minutes each time. The training includes sitting quietly with the eyes closed, and a specific mental procedure.

For example, a study done in Italy evaluated the effects of such a program on anxiety among 25 participants (Coppola, 2007). The study showed significant differences in the scores measuring the trait anxiety between pretreatment and after the first and second week of practice. Such training may be beneficial not only for anxiety, but also for relieving pain and fatigue caused by mental stress.

Reference:

Coppola, F. (2007) Effects of natural stress relief meditation on trait anxiety: a pilot study. Psychol Rep 101, 130-134.

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Mindfulness Meditation for Healing Insomnia

Meditation can help relieve insomnia through the detachment from the thoughts that are disturbing sleep or making someone wake up during sleep. Meditation in bed can help one falling sleep quickly and promote the sleep quality.

The combination of mindfulness meditation with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia has been found to be beneficial during posttreatment time. Researchers at Stanford University studied the long-term effects of such intervention on insomnia (Ong et al., 2009).

In the study, a total of 21 participants were involved. The follow-up data were collected at 6- and 12-month after the therapy (Ong et al., 2009). The study found that several sleep-related benefits from the combination of mindfulness meditation with cognitive behavioral therapy were kept during the 12-month follow-up period. However, negative correlations between mindfulness skills and daytime sleepiness were also observed. More studies are needed to assess the effects of meditation and/or CBT on sleep and to understand the mechanisms.

Reference:

Ong, J. C., Shapiro, S. L., et al. (2009) Mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia: a naturalistic 12-month follow-up. Explore (NY) 5, 30-36.

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Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on the Immune System in HIV Patients

Mindfulness meditation training has been found to reduce stress in different patient populations. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles studied the effects of meditation on CD4+ T lymphocyte counts in stressed HIV-infected adults (Creswell et al., 2009). In the study, the patients had training in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) meditation program.

A total of 48 HIV-1 infected adults were involved in either the 8-week MBSR training or a 1-day stress reduction education seminar as the control (Creswell et al., 2009). The researchers observed that the participants in the 1-day control seminar had reductions in CD4+ T lymphocyte counts. In contrast, the counts among participants in the 8-week MBSR program were not changed. The study also found that treatment adherence to the meditation program was related to the effects on buffering CD4+ T lymphocyte declines.

These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation training may buffer CD4+ T lymphocyte reductions in HIV-infected adults (Creswell et al., 2009). Further studies would be necessary to find out the effects of such meditation training on other aspects of the immune function, and how long such effects may maintain.

Reference:

Creswell, J. D., Myers, H. F., et al. (2009) Mindfulness meditation training effects on CD4+ T lymphocytes in HIV-1 infected adults: a small randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun 23, 184-188.

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Meditation, Life Style Changes, and Cancer Treatment

Meditation can benefit the recovery from chronic diseases as it helps one make lifestyle changes and deal with pain and stress. It helps detach our emotions from the illness and boost our immune system. It can improve food digestion, blood circulation, and sleep quality. It eases pain and distress. A relaxed condition can help one recover to the state of homeostasis, and even turn around a chronic disease.

A study done in Japan examined the quality of mindfulness-based meditation therapy among 28 patients undergoing anti-cancer treatment (Ando et al., 2010). The patients received two sessions of mindfulness-based meditation therapy, including breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation training. Each patient had on-site training and then practiced at home with a CD.

In the study, the patients were asked about the meaning of their illness before and after the intervention (Ando et al., 2010). Before the practice of meditation, patients responded with themes including “Effort to cope,” “Looking back,” “Personal growth,” and “Suffering.”

After the intervention, patients chose themes more commonly including “Adapted coping,” “Personal growth,” “Positive meaning,” and “Negative recognition”. The study suggested that mindfulness-based meditation therapy can be an effective strategy for making changes and adaptations toward a more positive lifestyle (Ando et al., 2010).

Reference:

Ando, M., Morita, T., et al. (2010) A qualitative study of mindfulness-based meditation therapy in Japanese cancer patients. Support Care Cancer.

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Meditation, Cognition, and Cancer Therapies

Cognitive impairment is often related with cancer, and may limit the quality of life in cancer patients and survivors. Abnormal neurologic structure and function have been reported in cancer patients. Researchers at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center studied the reports on cognitive impairment, meditation, and cancer (Biegler et al., 2009). They suggested that meditation practice may help improve cognitive function, and a meditation program can be beneficial for cancer-related cognitive deficits.

Although pharmacotherapies such as methylphenidate or modafinil may be able to relieve cognitive deficits, they often have serious side effects (Biegler et al., 2009). In addition, these drugs usually cannot help improve complicated symptoms such as sleep disturbance, nausea and pain.

On the other hand, meditation programs have been reported to regulate behavioral and corresponding neurophysiological functions, and relieve cancer-related cognitive impairment (Biegler et al., 2009). Furthermore, meditation programs may alleviate stress, fatigue, nausea and pain. These programs can also improve mood and sleep quality.

The study of the researchers indicates that meditation can be a useful intervention to alleviate cancer-related cognitive dysfunction, and may be a potential adjuvant to cancer therapies (Biegler et al., 2009). Further studies and clinical trials are necessary to confirm these findings and to understand the mechanisms of meditation on health.

Reference:

Biegler, K. A., Chaoul, M. A., et al. (2009) Cancer, cognitive impairment, and meditation. Acta Oncol 48, 18-26.

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The Benefits of Meditation on Healing ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral disorder, which often starts from childhood and continues into adulthood. Recently mindfulness meditation has been used to promote attention, reduce stress, and improve emotions. Researchers at University of California Los Angeles studied the effects of an 8-week mindfulness training program on ADHD among adults and adolescents (Zylowska et al., 2008).

In the study, a total of 24 adults and 8 adolescents with ADHD participated the 8-week mindfulness training program (Zylowska et al., 2008). The study showed that most of the participants finished the training with high levels of satisfaction. Significant improvements were reported about ADHD symptoms and test performance. The symptoms of anxiety and depression were also improved.

This study indicates that mindfulness meditation may be useful for healing behavioral and neurocognitive disorders in adults and adolescents. Further studies with controlled clinical trials, and research on how meditation can influence neurophysiological processes are needed to find out the scientific mechanisms of the mind-body intervention.

Reference:

Zylowska, L., Ackerman, D. L., et al. (2008) Mindfulness meditation training in adults and adolescents with ADHD: a feasibility study. J Atten Disord 11, 737-746.

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The Effects of Meditation on Rheumatoid Arthritis with Recurrent Depression

Mindful meditation interventions have been applied for helping relieve chronic stress, depression, and pain. Researchers at Arizona State University studied the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness interventions on pain and the quality of life among patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (Zautra et al., 2008).

A total of 144 RA patients were involved in the study and divided into different groups (Zautra et al., 2008). One group used cognitive behavioral therapy for pain (P), one group had mindfulness meditation and emotion regulation therapy (M). In the study, an education-only group (E) was used as the control.

The study found that those patients who received cognitive behavioral therapy for pain had the most significant improvement in pain control and decrease in the levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a proinflammatory cytokine (Zautra et al., 2008).  Both P and M groups had better results in coping efficacy than the control group did.

In addition, the RA patients with recurrent depression had the most significant improvement from the meditation and emotion regulation therapy (Zautra et al., 2008). Further study with more people would be necessary to confirm the effects and elucidate the mechanisms of meditation.

Reference:

Zautra, A. J., Davis, M. C., et al. (2008) Comparison of cognitive behavioral and mindfulness meditation interventions on adaptation to rheumatoid arthritis for patients with and without history of recurrent depression. J Consult Clin Psychol 76, 408-421.

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The Effects of Meditation on Heart Rate Variability

Meditation, especially slow breathing, is known to influence the heart rate variability (HRV). Researchers in Taiwan studied the effects of inward attention during meditation on HRV (Wu and Lo, 2008). Inward attention is a critical process for achieving the state of transcendental consciousness in Zen-meditation.

Ten practitioners of Zen-meditation, and 10 people with no meditation training experience as controls were involved in the study (Wu and Lo, 2008). The study found that inward attention during meditation led to the reduction of low/high frequency (LF/HF) ratio, and the improvement of a sympatho-vagal balance for parasympathetic activities.

In addition, there was a regular oscillating rhythms of the heart rate, which commonly occurs during slow breathing (Wu and Lo, 2008). The study indicates that inward-attention meditation may promote parasympathetic activities and regular oscillations of the heart rate. Further studies may help understand more potential influences on physical and mental activities as well as the mechanisms of such effects.

Reference:

Wu, S. D. and Lo, P. C. (2008) Inward-attention meditation increases parasympathetic activity: a study based on heart rate variability. Biomed Res 29, 245-250.

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Meditation as An Effective Intervention for PTSD

Meditation training may be useful for relieving posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including depression and anxiety symptoms. Researchers at Pacific Graduate School of Psychology studied the effects of meditation among mental health workers in New Orleans 10 weeks after Hurricane Katrina (Waelde et al., 2008).

In the study, a total of 20 African American and Caucasian mental health workers were involved in a 4-hour workshop followed by an eight-week home study program (Waelde et al., 2008). The investigators found that participants’ PTSD and anxiety symptoms significantly reduced over the 8 weeks of the intervention.

In addition, these changes may be related to the length or the number of minutes of the daily meditation training (Waelde et al., 2008). Most of participants had overall improvements in well-being. These findings indicate that meditation may be a practical and effective intervention for PTSD.

Reference:

Waelde, L. C., Uddo, M., et al. (2008) A pilot study of meditation for mental health workers following Hurricane Katrina. J Trauma Stress 21, 497-500.

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Effects of Spiritual Meditation on Migraine Headaches

Patients with migraine headaches often have symptoms of depression, anxiety, and low self-efficacy. Spiritual meditation has been found to relieve these symptoms. Researchers at University of Mass Medical Center studied the effects of spiritual meditation on improving pain tolerance and relieving migraine headaches (Wachholtz and Pargament, 2008). They also examined its mental, physical, and spiritual health outcomes, compared with those from secular meditation and relaxation techniques.

A total of 83 patients with migraines participated in the study. They learned Spiritual Meditation, Internally Focused Secular Meditation, Externally Focused Secular Meditation, or Muscle Relaxation, for 20 minutes a day for one month (Wachholtz and Pargament, 2008).

The study found that those patients practiced spiritual meditation had more significant reductions of migraine headaches, anxiety, and negative affect. In addition, they had more improvements in pain tolerance, self-efficacy, daily spiritual experiences, and existential well-being (Wachholtz and Pargament, 2008).

These findings indicate that spiritual meditation has good effects on relieving migraine headaches, compared with other methods. It would be interesting to find out the mechanisms of such interventions.

References:

Wachholtz, A. B. and Pargament, K. I. (2008) Migraines and meditation: does spirituality matter? J Behav Med 31, 351-366.

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Mindfulness Meditation Can Help Relieve Chronic Tinnitus

Chronic tinnitus is a common health problem. However, no effective drug treatment has been found yet. Researchers in UK evaluated the effects of mindfulness meditation in tinnitus (Sadlier et al., 2008).

In the study, 25 chronic tinnitus sufferers were divided into two groups. One group had a meditation training. The other group waited three months and was then trained in the same way, but used as controls. The study also conducted a four to six-month follow-up (Sadlier et al., 2008).

The study found significant reductions in tinnitus variables in both of the groups (Sadlier et al., 2008). In addition, the improvement was maintained during the follow-up period.

This study demonstrates that cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation may be useful for relieving chronic tinnitus. Further studies with larger population groups are still needed to confirm the results and to find out the mechanisms of such healing effects.

References:

Sadlier, M., Stephens, S. D., et al. (2008) Tinnitus rehabilitation: a mindfulness meditation cognitive behavioural therapy approach. J Laryngol Otol 122, 31-37.

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Mindfulness-Based Methods and Eating Behaviors

Mindfulness-based interventions are getting more and more popular for the promotion of healthy eating behaviors and weight control. Specifically, studies have indicated that mindfulness meditation may be helpful for healing binge eating (Katterman et al., 2014).

A meta-analysis and review of relevant studies indicated that as a primary intervention method, mindfulness meditation may be beneficial for relieving the problems of emotional eating and improving eating behaviors (Katterman et al., 2014). However, the overall and long-term influences of mindfulness-based methods on weight management need to be examined in larger population groups.

In a study focusing on the effects of an eight-week mindfulness-based method involving 26 women with abnormal eating behaviors, the training showed significant effects on food cravings and emotional eating (Alberts et al., 2012). The training also had beneficial influences on body image concern.

These studies have revealed that mindfulness-based interventions may have potential effects on improving eating behaviors such as emotional eating. More studies with long-term observations are still necessary to evaluate their effects on weight loss and psychological health.

References:

Alberts, H. J. E. M., Thewissen, R., & Raes, L. (2012). Dealing with problematic eating behaviour. The effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on eating behaviour, food cravings, dichotomous thinking and body image concern. Appetite, 58(3), 847–851. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2012.01.009

Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., Nackers, L. M., & Corsica, J. A. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Eating Behaviors, 15(2), 197–204. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005

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Youth Obesity, Mindful Eating, and Meditation-Based Interventions

Today more than 30% of young people in the US are overweight, and more than 15% of them have metabolic syndrome (Dalen et al., 2015). Youth obesity is becoming a more and more significant health problem. However, effective interventions are still to be developed to solve the problem. In the meantime, most of the conventional weight loss approaches are not able to adjust eating behaviors or improve psychological conditions, which are also serious.

These problems are requesting more extensive cognitive-behavioral strategies that can be helpful for healing youth obesity. For example, meditation-based mindful eating strategies have been suggested as a useful approach that may improve the psychological status and promote weight loss among the youth (Dalen et al., 2015).

Such mindfulness methods may also incorporate family relationships to emphasize the environmental factors that may affect the results. The combination of mindful eating and family involvement, i.e., an integrative family-based mindful eating strategy has been proposed for helping overweight youth (Dalen et al., 2015). The effectiveness of such a framework needs to be tested in the relevant population.

References:

Dalen, J., Brody, J. L., Staples, J. K., & Sedillo, D. (2015). A Conceptual Framework for the Expansion of Behavioral Interventions for Youth Obesity: A Family-Based Mindful Eating Approach. Childhood Obesity (Print), 11(5), 577–84. https://doi.org/10.1089/chi.2014.0150

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