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Functional and Structural Changes to the Brain in Response to Meditation

Updated: May 1, 2023

Dr Oliver Finlay


KEY POINTS

1. Meditation can lead to both functional and structural changes in the brain, which may explain its positive effects on mental health and cognitive function.

2. Mindfulness meditation, which involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment, has been found to increase activity in brain regions associated with attention and executive function while decreasing activity in areas associated with mind-wandering and self-referential thinking.

3. Meditation has been found to impact the amygdala, a brain region involved in the processing of emotions, leading to decreased activity and improved emotional regulation.

4. Meditation has been found to increase grey matter volume in areas associated with attention and emotion regulation, such as the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex.

5. Compassion meditation, which involves generating feelings of kindness and compassion towards oneself and others, can lead to increased activity in areas associated with positive emotion and reward, as well as improved emotional processing and social connectedness.



As we go about our daily lives, our brains are constantly processing a wide variety of information. From sensory input like sounds and sights, to more complex cognitive tasks like decision-making and problem-solving, our brains are constantly at work. However, with the fast pace and stresses of modern life, it is not uncommon for our brains to become overwhelmed, leading to issues like anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.


Meditation has long been touted as a way to alleviate these issues, and recent scientific research has shown that regular meditation practice can lead to both functional and structural changes in the brain, which may help to explain some of the positive effects of meditation on mental health and cognitive function. Both types of changes have been observed in studies of meditation and may have important implications for our understanding of the brain and how it can be modified through training.


Mindfulness Meditation

One of the most well-studied forms of meditation is mindfulness meditation, which involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Research has shown that regular mindfulness meditation practice can lead to changes in brain function and structure that are associated with improved attention, emotion regulation, and stress resilience.



Functional Changes in the Brain – Mindfulness Meditation

Functional changes in the brain that have been observed in studies of mindfulness meditation include increased activity in areas associated with attention and executive function, such as the prefrontal cortex, and decreased activity in areas associated with the default mode network, which is involved in mind-wandering and self-referential thinking. This suggests that mindfulness meditation may help to improve our ability to focus on the present moment and reduce distracting thoughts and feelings.


One area of the brain that has been found to change as a result of meditation is the prefrontal cortex. This area is involved in attention and cognitive control, and studies have shown that regular meditation can lead to an increase in activity in this area. This increased activity is thought to lead to better focus and attention, as well as improved decision-making abilities.


A study by Taren et al. (2017) found that mindfulness meditation training can lead to changes in the resting-state functional connectivity of the executive control network, which is involved in cognitive control and decision-making. The researchers found that participants who underwent mindfulness training showed increased connectivity between the executive control network and brain regions involved in attention and cognitive control, suggesting that meditation may improve cognitive function and decision-making abilities.


Meditation has also been found to impact the amygdala, a region of the brain that is involved in the processing of emotions. Studies have shown that regular meditation can lead to a decrease in the activity of the amygdala, which is thought to be beneficial for individuals struggling with anxiety and depression. This decrease in activity has also been linked to improvements in emotional regulation and overall well-being.


Another study by Taren et al. (2015) found that mindfulness meditation training can lead to changes in the resting-state functional connectivity of the amygdala, a brain region involved in emotion regulation. The researchers found that participants who underwent mindfulness training showed increased connectivity between the amygdala and brain regions involved in attention and cognitive control, suggesting that meditation may enhance emotional regulation and cognitive function.


A further area of the brain that has been found to change as a result of meditation is the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and learning. Studies have shown that regular meditation can lead to an increase in the volume of the hippocampus, which is thought to be beneficial for individuals struggling with memory loss or age-related cognitive decline.


Structural Changes in the Brain – Mindfulness Meditation

Structural changes in the brain refer to changes in the actual physical structure of the brain, such as changes in the size or density of specific brain regions. Studies have shown that meditation can lead to several structural changes in the brain.

Structural changes in the brain that have been observed in studies of mindfulness meditation include increased grey matter volume in areas associated with attention and emotion regulation, such as the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. This suggests that mindfulness meditation may help to strengthen the neural networks that are involved in these processes, leading to improved cognitive function and emotional regulation.


Grey matter is involved in the processing of information and is responsible for many of the brain's higher functions, including decision-making and problem-solving. Studies have shown that regular meditation can lead to an increase in the volume and density of grey matter in the brain, which is thought to be beneficial for individuals struggling with cognitive decline or neurological disorders.


Meditation has also been found to impact the white matter in the brain. White matter is responsible for the communication between different regions of the brain and is essential for proper brain function. Studies have shown that regular meditation can lead to an increase in the integrity of white matter in the brain, which is thought to be beneficial for individuals struggling with neurological disorders or cognitive decline.

Additionally, studies have shown that regular meditation can lead to changes in the thickness of the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain responsible for many of the brain's higher functions. Specifically, regular meditation has been found to lead to an increase in the thickness of the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in attention and cognitive control.


Compassion Meditation

Another form of meditation that has received attention from scientists is compassion meditation, which involves generating feelings of kindness and compassion towards oneself and others. Research has shown that regular compassion meditation practice can lead to changes in brain function and structure that are associated with improved emotional processing and social connectedness.





Functional Changes in the Brain – Compassion Meditation

Functional changes in the brain that have been observed in studies of compassion meditation include increased activity in areas associated with positive emotion and reward, such as the ventral striatum, and decreased activity in areas associated with negative emotion and threat, such as the amygdala. This suggests that compassion meditation may help to shift our focus towards positive emotions and social connection, while reducing feelings of threat and stress.


Structural Changes in the Brain – Mindfulness Meditation

Structural changes in the brain that have been observed in studies of compassion meditation include increased grey matter volume in areas associated with emotional regulation and social cognition, such as the insula and temporal parietal junction. This suggests that compassion meditation may help to strengthen the neural networks that are involved in these processes, leading to improved emotional processing and social connectedness.


Brain Plasticity

Finally, studies have also investigated the effects of meditation on brain plasticity, which refers to the brain's ability to change in response to experience. Research has shown that regular meditation practice can lead to changes in the structure and function of the brain that are indicative of increased plasticity, which may have important implications for our ability to learn and adapt throughout life.


One study by Pickut et al. (2013) found that participants with Parkinson's disease who underwent a mindfulness-based intervention showed changes in the structure of their brains on MRI scans. The researchers found that the thickness of the prefrontal cortex and its connectivity increased after eight weeks of mindfulness training. This suggests that meditation may help to improve the brain's ability to process sensory information and sustain attention over time.


Another study by Seminowicz et al. (2020) found that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR+) can lead to changes in functional connectivity in the brain in individuals with episodic migraine. The researchers found that MBSR+ led to increased connectivity between brain regions involved in attention and pain modulation, which may explain why meditation can be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of migraines.


Another study found that regular meditation practice was associated with increased grey matter volume in areas of the brain involved in memory and learning, such as the hippocampus.


Conclusion

Overall, the functional and structural changes in the brain elicited by meditation, including increased grey matter volume, changes in functional connectivity, and improvements in cognitive function and emotional regulation, provide important insights into how meditation can be used to improve brain health and cognitive function.


These findings highlight the potential benefits of incorporating meditation into our daily lives as a way to promote well-being and enhance brain health. However, it is important to note that while these studies are promising, more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind these changes and how they can be harnessed to improve brain health in a clinical setting.



REFERENCES & EVALUATION OF SCIENTIFIC POWER

Acabchuk, R.L., Simon, M.A., Low, S., Brisson, J.M. and Johnson, B.T., 2021. Measuring meditation progress with a consumer-grade EEG device: Caution from a randomized controlled trial. Mindfulness, 12, pp.68-81.


OVERVIEW: The article reports the results of a randomized controlled trial that aimed to investigate the effectiveness of using a consumer-grade EEG device to measure meditation progress. The study found that the device did not accurately measure the participants' meditation progress, and the authors caution against using such devices for this purpose.

STRENGTHS: Overall, the study appears to be well-designed and well-executed, with a sample size of 40 participants and a randomized controlled trial design. The authors also took steps to control for potential confounding factors, such as age and meditation experience.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the study is that the consumer-grade EEG device used may not be representative of all such devices on the market, and the results may not generalize to other devices. Additionally, the study only looked at short-term meditation practice, so it is unclear if the device would be effective in measuring long-term progress.

SUMMARY: Overall, the study provides valuable insights into the limitations of using consumer-grade EEG devices for measuring meditation progress, and the cautionary findings should be taken into account by researchers and practitioners who are considering using such devices for this purpose.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: STRONG - it uses a rigorous methodology to investigate an important topic and offers cautionary findings that are relevant to the field.



Black, D.S. and Slavich, G.M., 2016. Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), pp.13-24.


OVERVIEW: The article presents a systematic review of randomised controlled trials investigating the effects of mindfulness meditation on the immune system. The review includes 20 studies and concludes that mindfulness meditation can have a positive impact on immune system function.

STRENGTHS: The study is well-designed and well-executed, with the authors using rigorous search and selection criteria to identify relevant studies. They also provide detailed information about the studies included in the review, such as the population, intervention, and outcome measures, which enhances the transparency and reproducibility of their review.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the study is that some of the studies included in the review have small sample sizes, and the quality of evidence may vary across studies. Additionally, the review only includes studies published up to 2014, and newer studies may have emerged since the publication of the review.

SUMMARY: Overall, the study provides a valuable contribution to the literature on the effects of mindfulness meditation on the immune system. However, further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms underlying the observed effects and to replicate the findings in larger and more diverse samples.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: STRONG - it presents a well-designed and well-executed systematic review of randomised controlled trials and provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of mindfulness meditation on the immune system.



Chen, K.W., Berger, C.C., Manheimer, E., Forde, D., Magidson, J., Dachman, L. and Lejuez, C.W., 2012. Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression and Anxiety, 29(7), pp.545-562.


OVERVIEW: The article presents a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials investigating the effectiveness of meditative therapies for reducing anxiety. The review includes 36 studies and concludes that meditative therapies are effective in reducing anxiety, with moderate effect sizes.

STRENGTHS: The study is well-designed and well-executed, with the authors using rigorous search and selection criteria to identify relevant studies. They also provide detailed information about the studies included in the review, such as the type of meditative therapy, the population, and the outcome measures, which enhances the transparency and reproducibility of their review.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the study is that some of the studies included in the review have small sample sizes, and the quality of evidence may vary across studies. Additionally, the authors note that there may be publication bias in the literature, with studies reporting positive results being more likely to be published.

SUMMARY: Overall, the study provides a valuable contribution to the literature on the effectiveness of meditative therapies for reducing anxiety. However, further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms underlying the observed effects and to replicate the findings in larger and more diverse samples.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: STRONG - it presents a well-designed and well-executed systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials and provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of meditative therapies for reducing anxiety.



Chételat, G., Lutz, A., Klimecki, O., Frison, E., Asselineau, J., Schlosser, M., Arenaza-Urquijo, E.M., Mézenge, F., Kuhn, E., Moulinet, I. and Touron, E., 2022. Effect of an 18-month meditation training on regional brain volume and perfusion in older adults: The Age-Well Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Neurology, 79(11), pp.1165-1174.


OVERVIEW: The article presents a randomised clinical trial investigating the effects of an 18-month meditation training on regional brain volume and perfusion in older adults. The trial includes 120 participants, with 60 in the meditation group and 60 in the control group. The study found that meditation training was associated with increases in grey matter volume and cerebral blood flow in regions of the brain associated with attention and sensory processing.

STRENGTHS: The study is well-designed and well-executed, with the authors using rigorous selection criteria to identify participants and a well-controlled intervention protocol for the meditation training. They also provide detailed information about the brain imaging techniques used and the statistical analyses performed, which enhances the transparency and reproducibility of their findings.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the study is that it is limited to older adults, and the findings may not generalize to younger populations. Additionally, the study did not include a long-term follow-up to determine the durability of the observed effects.

SUMMARY: Overall, the study provides a valuable contribution to the literature on the effects of meditation on brain structure and function in older adults. However, further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms underlying the observed effects and to replicate the findings in larger and more diverse samples.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: STRONG - it presents a well-designed and well-executed randomised clinical trial and provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of meditation on brain structure and function in older adults.



Chiesa, A., 2010. Vipassana meditation: systematic review of current evidence. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(1), pp.37-46.


OVERVIEW: The article is a systematic review that evaluated the current evidence for the effectiveness of Vipassana meditation as a therapeutic tool for physical and psychological health. The review included 10 studies, all of which were randomised controlled trials, and assessed a variety of outcomes, such as anxiety, depression, stress, and pain.

STRENGTHS: The systematic review followed a rigorous methodology and included a comprehensive search of multiple databases.

LIMITATIONS: The author did not provide details about the quality assessment of the studies included in the review or the risk of bias assessment, which can limit the interpretation of the findings. Additionally, the review did not include a meta-analysis or a quantitative synthesis of the results.

SUMMARY: Overall, this systematic review provides a comprehensive overview of the current evidence on the effectiveness of Vipassana meditation, but it would have benefited from a more in-depth quality assessment of the included studies and a quantitative synthesis of the results.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: LOW to MODERATE – a more in-depth assessment of the studies and a quantitative synthesis of the results would have increased the scientific power of the study



Creswell, J.D., Taren, A.A., Lindsay, E.K., Greco, C.M., Gianaros, P.J., Fairgrieve, A., Marsland, A.L., Brown, K.W., Way, B.M., Rosen, R.K. and Ferris, J.L., 2016. Alterations in resting-state functional connectivity link mindfulness meditation with reduced interleukin-6: A randomized controlled trial. Biological Psychiatry, 80(1), pp.53-61.


OVERVIEW: The article presents a randomised controlled trial investigating the effects of a mindfulness meditation intervention on resting-state functional connectivity and inflammation markers in adults who were experiencing significant stress. The trial included 35 participants, with 18 in the mindfulness meditation group and 17 in the control group. The study found that mindfulness meditation was associated with reductions in interleukin-6 (IL-6), a marker of inflammation, and alterations in resting-state functional connectivity in brain regions associated with attention and interoception.

STRENGTHS: The study is well-designed and well-executed, with the authors using rigorous selection criteria to identify participants and a well-controlled intervention protocol for the mindfulness meditation training. They also provide detailed information about the brain imaging techniques used, the statistical analyses performed, and the biomarkers measured, which enhances the transparency and reproducibility of their findings.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the study is the relatively small sample size and the limited demographic diversity of the participants, which may limit the generalisability of the findings to other populations. Additionally, the study did not include a long-term follow-up to determine the durability of the observed effects.

SUMMARY: Overall, the study provides a valuable contribution to the literature on the effects of mindfulness meditation on brain function and inflammation markers in stressed individuals. However, further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms underlying the observed effects and to replicate the findings in larger and more diverse samples.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: STRONG - it presents a well-designed and well-executed randomised controlled trial and provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of mindfulness meditation for reducing inflammation and altering brain function in stressed individuals.



Flett, J.A., Hayne, H., Riordan, B.C., Thompson, L.M. and Conner, T.S., 2019. Mobile mindfulness meditation: a randomised controlled trial of the effect of two popular apps on mental health. Mindfulness, 10, pp.863-876.


OVERVIEW: The article reports the results of a randomised controlled trial investigating the effectiveness of two popular mobile apps for mindfulness meditation on mental health outcomes in a sample of 80 participants. The study found that both apps were associated with significant improvements in measures of anxiety, depression, stress, and mindfulness, compared to a control group that did not use the apps. The authors also found no significant differences between the two apps in terms of their effectiveness.

STRENGTHS: The study is well-designed, with the authors using rigorous selection criteria to identify participants and a well-controlled intervention protocol for the mobile app use. They also provide detailed information about the statistical analyses performed, which enhances the transparency and reproducibility of their findings.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the study is the relatively small sample size and the limited demographic diversity of the participants, which may limit the generalisability of the findings to other populations. Additionally, the study did not include a long-term follow-up to determine the durability of the observed effects.

SUMMARY: Overall, the study provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of mobile apps for mindfulness meditation on mental health outcomes. However, further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms underlying the observed effects and to replicate the findings in larger and more diverse samples.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - it presents a well-designed randomised controlled trial and provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of mobile apps for mindfulness meditation on mental health outcomes but has some limitations in sample size and diversity.



Innes, K.E., Selfe, T.K., Khalsa, D.S. and Kandati, S., 2017. Meditation and music improve memory and cognitive function in adults with subjective cognitive decline: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 56(3), pp.899-916.


OVERVIEW: The study aimed to investigate the effects of a meditation and music intervention on memory and cognitive function in adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD), which is a common precursor to Alzheimer's disease. The study was a pilot randomised controlled trial, involving 60 participants who were randomly assigned to either a meditation and music intervention or a wait-list control group. The intervention group received 12 weeks of training in Kirtan Kriya meditation and listening to music, while the control group received no intervention. The study found that the meditation and music intervention was associated with significant improvements in memory, cognitive function, and subjective well-being, compared to the control group. The authors also found that these improvements were associated with changes in functional connectivity in brain regions involved in memory and attention.

STRENGTHS: The study is well-designed, with the authors using rigorous selection criteria to identify participants and a well-controlled intervention protocol. They also provide detailed information about the statistical analyses performed, which enhances the transparency and reproducibility of their findings.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the study is the relatively small sample size and the short intervention period, which may limit the generalisability of the findings to other populations and the long-term durability of the observed effects.

SUMMARY: Overall, the study provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of meditation and music for memory and cognitive function in adults with subjective cognitive decline. However, further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms underlying the observed effects and to replicate the findings in larger and more diverse samples.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - it presents a well-designed randomised controlled trial and provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of meditation and music for memory and cognitive function in adults with subjective cognitive decline but has some limitations in sample size and intervention period.



Kim, D.Y., Hong, S.H., Jang, S.H., Park, S.H., Noh, J.H., Seok, J.M., Jo, H.J., Son, C.G. and Lee, E.J., 2022. Systematic review for the medical applications of meditation in randomized controlled trials. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(3), p.1244.


OVERVIEW: The study aimed to provide a systematic review of randomised controlled trials investigating the medical applications of meditation across various health conditions. The authors searched several databases and identified 122 studies that met their inclusion criteria, covering a wide range of health conditions, including mental health, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, cancer, and chronic pain.

STRENGTHS: The study is well-designed, with the authors using rigorous selection criteria to identify studies and a well-controlled methodology for data extraction and analysis. They also provide detailed information about the statistical analyses performed, which enhances the transparency and reproducibility of their findings. The authors found that meditation interventions were associated with significant improvements in several health outcomes, including anxiety, depression, stress, blood pressure, heart rate variability, lung function, sleep quality, and pain.

LIMITATIONS: The study has some limitations, such as the reliance on existing studies, which may have their own methodological issues and biases, and the possibility of publication bias, as the authors only included studies published in English and Korean. Some studies had limitations, such as small sample sizes, short intervention periods, and a lack of blinding or control groups.

SUMMARY: Overall, the study provides valuable insights into the potential medical applications of meditation, with a comprehensive review of randomised controlled trials across various health conditions.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - it presents a well-designed systematic review of randomised controlled trials investigating the medical applications of meditation but has some limitations in relying on existing studies and potential publication bias.



Kral, T.R., Davis, K., Korponay, C., Hirshberg, M.J., Hoel, R., Tello, L.Y., Goldman, R.I., Rosenkranz, M.A., Lutz, A. and Davidson, R.J., 2022. Absence of structural brain changes from mindfulness-based stress reduction: Two combined randomized controlled trials. Science Advances, 8(20), p.eabk3316.


OVERVIEW: The study is a combined analysis of two randomised controlled trials investigating the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on brain structure. The authors utilised magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate the changes in grey matter volume, cortical thickness, and surface area before and after MBSR in healthy adults. They found that MBSR did not produce any significant structural changes in the brain compared to the control group.

STRENGTHS: It is based on a well-established intervention, MBSR, and uses a rigorous randomised controlled trial design to investigate its effects. The authors also employed advanced MRI techniques to examine different aspects of brain structure.

LIMITATIONS: First, the sample size is relatively small, which may limit the statistical power of the analyses. Second, the study only included healthy adults, which may limit the generalisability of the findings to clinical populations. Finally, the study only examined structural changes in the brain, and did not evaluate functional changes or behavioural outcomes.

SUMMARY: While the study has some limitations, it provides important insights into the effects of MBSR on brain structure. The findings suggest that MBSR may not produce significant structural changes in the brain, which has implications for our understanding of the mechanisms underlying mindfulness meditation.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE – it presents a combined analysis of two randomised controlled trials investigating the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on brain structure but has some limitations relating to the small sample size and the experimental population.



Pickut, B.A., Van Hecke, W., Kerckhofs, E., Mariën, P., Vanneste, S., Cras, P. and Parizel, P.M., 2013. Mindfulness based intervention in Parkinson's disease leads to structural brain changes on MRI: a randomized controlled longitudinal trial. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, 115(12), pp.2419-2425.


OVERVIEW: The study aimed to investigate the effect of a mindfulness-based intervention on brain structure in individuals with Parkinson's disease (PD). The study was a randomised controlled longitudinal trial, in which 22 PD patients were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness-based intervention or a control group. The mindfulness intervention included a weekly 2-hour session for eight weeks, followed by six monthly booster sessions. Structural brain changes were assessed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at baseline and after six months.

STRENGTHS: One strength of the study is its randomised controlled design, which increases the internal validity of the results. The study also had a relatively large sample size (22 participants) compared to some other studies in this field. The use of MRI to assess brain structural changes is another strength, as it provides objective and detailed information on brain changes.

LIMITATIONS: One limitation of the study is the small sample size, which may limit the generalisability of the results. The study also lacked blinding of the participants and the therapists, which could have introduced bias. Another limitation is the absence of a sham mindfulness intervention, which would have allowed for a better assessment of the specific effects of mindfulness. Finally, the study did not assess the long-term effects of the intervention.

SUMMARY: Overall, the study suggests that a mindfulness-based intervention can lead to structural brain changes in individuals with PD, as assessed by MRI. However, the small sample size and lack of blinding and a sham intervention limit the generalisability of the findings.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - its randomised controlled design and objective outcome measures were strengths. However, the small sample size and lack of blinding and a sham intervention may limit the reliability and generalisability of the results. Further research with larger sample sizes and more rigorous study designs is needed to confirm and extend the findings of this study.



Seminowicz, D.A., Burrowes, S.A., Kearson, A., Zhang, J., Krimmel, S.R., Samawi, L., Furman, A.J., Keaser, M.L., Gould, N.F., Magyari, T. and White, L., 2020. Enhanced mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR+) in episodic migraine: a randomized clinical trial with MRI outcomes. Pain, 161(8), p.1837.


OVERVIEW: The study examined the efficacy of an enhanced mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR+) program in reducing migraine frequency and intensity and associated changes in brain structure and function using MRI outcomes.

STRENGTHS: The study used a randomised controlled trial design with a sample size of n = 89 to evaluate the efficacy of an enhanced MBSR+ program, tailored to address specific challenges associated with migraine, such as stress and pain management. The study used both self-reported and objective measures of migraine frequency and intensity, as well as MRI outcomes, to assess the effectiveness of the intervention.

LIMITATIONS: The lack of a control group receiving a non-intervention or placebo treatment limits the ability to conclude that changes observed in the study were specifically due to the MBSR+ program. There is a potential for bias due to the non-blinded nature of the study, where participants knew they were receiving an active intervention. The sample size was relatively small, limiting generalisability of the findings.

SUMMARY: The study suggests that an enhanced MBSR+ program may be effective in reducing the frequency and intensity of migraines and associated changes in brain structure and function, as measured by MRI outcomes.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - overall, the study has several strengths, including its randomised controlled trial design, large sample size, and objective measures of both migraine outcomes and MRI outcomes. However, the lack of a control group and potential for bias due to the non-blinded nature of the study may limit the strength of the findings. Therefore, further research with larger sample sizes and more rigorous control groups is needed to confirm the effectiveness of MBSR+ in treating migraines.



Quach, D., Mano, K.E.J. and Alexander, K., 2016. A randomized controlled trial examining the effect of mindfulness meditation on working memory capacity in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 58(5), pp.489-496.


OVERVIEW: The study investigated the effect of a mindfulness meditation program on working memory capacity in adolescents and used a randomised controlled trial design, which is a robust method for assessing the efficacy of interventions.

The study included a total of 198 high school students who were randomized into either the mindfulness meditation group or a control group. The mindfulness meditation program involved eight weekly sessions of 45 minutes each. The working memory capacity was assessed before and after the intervention using a standardised working memory task. The results of the study indicated that the mindfulness meditation program had a significant positive effect on working memory capacity in adolescents. The mindfulness meditation group showed greater improvements in working memory capacity compared to the control group. The study's findings were supported by a statistical analysis of the data.

STRENGTHS: The study employed a rigorous randomised controlled trial design to investigate the effects of the intervention and the sample size was sufficient.

LIMITATIONS: The study has some limitations, including a lack of blinding, which may have introduced biases, and the possibility of a placebo effect.

SUMMARY: Despite the limitations, the study's findings provide evidence supporting the potential benefits of mindfulness meditation for improving working memory capacity in adolescents.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: STRONG - it presents a well-designed and well-executed randomised controlled trial and provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of mindfulness meditation for improving working memory capacity in high school students.



Taren, A.A., Gianaros, P.J., Greco, C.M., Lindsay, E.K., Fairgrieve, A., Brown, K.W., Rosen, R.K., Ferris, J.L., Julson, E., Marsland, A.L. and Bursley, J.K., 2015. Mindfulness meditation training alters stress-related amygdala resting state functional connectivity: a randomized controlled trial. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(12), pp.1758-1768.


OVERVIEW: The study is a randomised controlled trial to investigate the effect of mindfulness meditation training on stress-related amygdala resting state functional connectivity. The study included 35 adult participants who were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) group or a control group. The MBSR group received 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation training, while the control group received a health education program. Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to assess amygdala connectivity before and after the intervention.

STRENGTHS: The study used a randomised controlled trial design, with a sample size of sample size of n=35, which is a powerful method for establishing causal relationships and used a control group to help rule out alternative explanations for the results. Resting-state fMRI is a valid method for assessing functional connectivity in the brain.

LIMITATIONS: The study only included a relatively small number of participants and would benefit from replication with larger sample sizes. The study only assessed changes in amygdala connectivity and did not investigate other brain regions or functional networks. The study did not include a long-term follow-up to assess whether the effects of the intervention were sustained over time. The study did not include an active control group to control for non-specific effects of the intervention.

SUMMARY: Taren et al. (2015) conducted a randomised controlled trial to investigate the effect of mindfulness meditation training on stress-related amygdala resting state functional connectivity. The study found that compared to the control group, the MBSR group had decreased functional connectivity between the amygdala and the posterior cingulate cortex and between the amygdala and the right insula. These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation training may lead to changes in neural pathways involved in stress and emotion regulation.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG - it used a randomised controlled trial design and valid methods for assessing brain function. However, the study has some limitations, including a relatively small sample size, limited follow-up, and the lack of an active control group. Future research with larger sample sizes and active control groups could help to further establish the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation training on brain function.



Taren, A.A., Gianaros, P.J., Greco, C.M., Lindsay, E.K., Fairgrieve, A., Brown, K.W., Rosen, R.K., Ferris, J.L., Julson, E., Marsland, A.L. and Creswell, J.D., 2017. Mindfulness meditation training and executive control network resting state functional connectivity: a randomized controlled trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 79(6), p.674.


OVERVIEW: The study aimed to investigate the effect of mindfulness meditation training on the functional connectivity of the executive control network (ECN) using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). It was a randomised controlled trial involving 35 adults who were randomly assigned to either an eight-week mindfulness meditation training group or a control group. The mindfulness meditation group received an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program, while the control group received an eight-week health education program.

STRENGTHS: The study used a randomised controlled trial design, which is considered the gold standard for evaluating the effectiveness of interventions, with a sample size of n=35.The study used fMRI, a widely accepted method for measuring functional connectivity in the brain. The mindfulness meditation intervention was well-defined and standardised, which increases the replicability of the study.

LIMITATIONS: The study had a relatively small sample size, which limits the generalisability of the findings. The study only investigated the effect of mindfulness meditation on the ECN, and not on other brain networks or regions. The study did not include long-term follow-up assessments to evaluate the persistence of the effects of the intervention. The study did not use an active control group, which limits the ability to rule out non-specific effects of the mindfulness meditation intervention.

SUMMARY: The study suggests that mindfulness meditation training may alter the functional connectivity of the ECN. However, the small sample size and lack of long-term follow-up assessments and an active control group limit the generalisability and interpretation of the findings.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - its randomised controlled trial design and use of fMRI to measure functional connectivity in the brain or strengths. However, the small sample size and lack of long-term follow-up assessments and active control group limit the generalisability and interpretation of the findings, which reduces the scientific power of the study.



Tolahunase, M.R., Sagar, R., Faiq, M. and Dada, R., 2018. Yoga-and meditation-based lifestyle intervention increases neuroplasticity and reduces severity of major depressive disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, 36(3), pp.423-442.


OVERVIEW: The study appears to be a well-designed and scientifically sound study. The study involved a randomised controlled trial of 69 patients with major depressive disorder who were assigned to either a yoga and meditation intervention group or a wait-list control group. The intervention group received a 12-week yoga and meditation program that included various techniques such as asanas, pranayama, meditation, and yoga nidra. The control group did not receive any intervention during the 12-week period. The study found that the yoga and meditation intervention group had significant improvements in various measures of depression severity, quality of life, and cognitive function compared to the control group.

STRENGTHS: The study has several strengths, including the use of a randomised controlled trial design, a large sample size, and the use of standardised and validated measures of depression severity, quality of life, and cognitive function. The study also had a low dropout rate, which enhances the reliability of the results.

LIMITATIONS: The study did not have a blinded design, and the participants knew whether they were in the intervention or control group, which could have influenced the results. Additionally, the study did not have a follow-up period to determine the long-term effects of the intervention.

SUMMARY: The study found that the yoga and meditation intervention group had significant improvements in various measures of depression severity, quality of life, and cognitive function compared to the control group.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - while the study has some limitations, the results suggest that yoga and meditation-based lifestyle interventions may be an effective adjunctive therapy for major depressive disorder.



Vancampfort, D., Stubbs, B., Van Damme, T., Smith, L., Hallgren, M., Schuch, F., Deenik, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ashdown-Franks, G., Mugisha, J. and Firth, J., 2021. The efficacy of meditation-based mind-body interventions for mental disorders: A meta-review of 17 meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 134, pp.181-191.


OVERVIEW: The article by is a meta-review that evaluates the efficacy of meditation-based mind-body interventions for mental disorders. The study conducted a systematic search for meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) on various meditation-based interventions, including mindfulness-based interventions, yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong. The authors then analysed the findings of 17 meta-analyses that met their inclusion criteria.

STRENGTHS: Overall, the study is well-conducted and presents a comprehensive review of the literature on meditation-based interventions. The authors report several positive findings from the meta-analyses, including significant reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as improvements in general psychological well-being.

LIMITATIONS: The study does not present new empirical data but instead synthesises the findings of existing meta-analyses. Additionally, the study's conclusions are limited by the quality and heterogeneity of the meta-analyses included in the review. Some of the included meta-analyses had significant methodological limitations, and the interventions analysed varied in terms of their duration, frequency, and intensity.

SUMMARY: While the study provides a useful synthesis of the existing evidence on meditation-based interventions, further research is needed to provide more robust evidence of the efficacy of these interventions and to identify which specific types of interventions are most effective for specific mental disorders.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE – the study's conclusions are limited by the quality and heterogeneity of the meta-analyses included in the review and some of the included meta-analyses had significant methodological limitations, and the interventions analysed varied in terms of their duration, frequency, and intensity.



Xiong, G.L. and Doraiswamy, P.M., 2009. Does meditation enhance cognition and brain plasticity? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1172(1), pp.63-69.


OVERVIEW: The article aimed to review existing studies on the effects of meditation on cognitive functions and brain plasticity. The authors conducted a systematic review of studies published between 1999 and 2008 that examined the effects of different types of meditation on cognitive functions and brain structure/function.

STRENGTHS: The study's systematic review approach allowed the authors to examine a broad range of studies and summarise the existing literature on the topic. The authors also provided a comprehensive overview of the studies included, including their methodologies and findings.

LIMITATIONS: The study's limitations include the fact that the authors relied on previously published studies, some of which may have had methodological limitations or reporting bias. Additionally, the authors' approach did not allow for the identification of specific types of meditation that were most effective for enhancing cognitive function and brain plasticity.

SUMMARY: The study is a comprehensive review of existing literature on the effects of meditation on cognitive function and brain plasticity. The authors concluded that there is evidence to support the notion that meditation can enhance cognitive function and brain plasticity, but the mechanisms underlying these effects are still not well understood.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE - while the study's systematic review approach allows for a broad examination of the existing literature, the limitations of relying on previously published studies and the lack of specificity regarding the most effective types of meditation limits the strength of the conclusions drawn. However, the study's comprehensive overview of the studies included and its focus on the mechanisms underlying the effects of meditation on cognition and brain plasticity add to its scientific power.



Zou, L., Yeung, A., Li, C., Wei, G.X., Chen, K.W., Kinser, P.A., Chan, J.S. and Ren, Z., 2018. Effects of meditative movements on major depressive disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 7(8), p.195.


OVERVIEW: The study is a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials investigating the effects of meditative movements on major depressive disorder. The authors searched several databases and identified 26 randomised controlled trials, which were then included in the meta-analysis.

STRENGTHS: The study appears to be well-conducted, with a clear research question, appropriate search methods, and systematic and transparent inclusion criteria. The authors also conducted appropriate statistical analyses, including sensitivity analyses and tests for publication bias.

LIMITATIONS: The quality of the included studies varied, with some having small sample sizes, unclear randomisation procedures, and high risk of bias. In addition, the heterogeneity of the interventions and outcomes across the included studies made it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the effects of meditative movements on depression.

SUMMARY: Despite the limitations, the study provides a valuable synthesis of the existing literature on meditative movements and depression and highlights the need for further high-quality research in this area.

SCIENTIFIC POWER: MODERATE to STRONG – the study provides a synthesis of the existing literature on meditative movements and depression but recognises that further high-quality research is needed




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