Newswise — People who underwent eight weeks of meditation training produced more antibodies to a flu vaccine and showed signs of increased activity in areas of the brain related to positive emotion than individuals who did not meditate, according to a new study in Psychosomatic Medicine.
The study is the first to link meditation to changes in brain activity associated with positive feeling and the first to demonstrate that mediation can affect immune function, say Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin and colleagues.
"Our findings indicate that a short training program in mindful meditation has demonstrable effects on brain and immune function and underscores the need for additional research on the biological consequences of this intervention," Davidson says.
Some of the biological effects seen in the study continued up to four months after the end of meditation training; a valuable insight since most previous research has focused on meditation's immediate effects.
"Whereas these studies have been informative," Davidson says, "they tell us little about changes that are potentially more enduring."
Forty-eight employees at a biotechnology company participated in the study, with half receiving weekly meditation training. The meditation employees were also encouraged to mediate at home for an hour a day, six days a week, with the help of instructive audiotapes. All participants also received a flu vaccine during the study.
Davidson and colleagues recorded electrical activity in areas in the left and front portion of the brain that become more active when individuals experience certain forms of positive emotion and reductions in anxiety.
At several points during the study, the researchers measured brain activity as the employees rested or wrote about positive and negative emotional experiences from their lives. Davidson and colleagues also tracked immune responses among the employees by measuring the level of antibodies produced by the flu vaccination.
After the intervention, the meditators had more electrical activity in the relevant areas of the brain and higher levels of antibodies than the employees who received no meditation training. The increased brain activity was also significantly related to the antibody increase among meditators.
The researchers note that their study "examined the impact of a relatively brief intervention delivered in a demanding work environment during regular business hours," and suggest that more work needs to be done to find out what effects more intensive meditation training might have.
The study was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Research Network on Mind-Body Interaction, the Fetzer Institute and the National Institute for Mental Health.