During a recent online class, I dispensed some erroneous information about how chemicals change in your body during meditation. Thanks, John for helping me set the record straight. And for anyone else who catches me in such an inexactitude (I love my thesaurus), please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Here is a little more complete list of what changes take place while you meditate. And by the way, meditation doesn’t just have to be sitting quietly with the light out and the incense burning. Meditation in the form of mindfulness can happen anywhere, anytime. One of the qualities of mindfulness is to be nonjudgmental. This is a skill you can learn. Very useful.
The following article appeared in the EOC Institute website. I chose it because within the article the sources are identified.
Meditation boosts Serotonin
Of our approximately 86 billion brain cells, most all are influenced by serotonin. Known by many scientists as the “happy” neurotransmitter, serotonin is key to helping relay signals from one part of the brain to another. This crucial chemical has a profound impact on our mood, contributing greatly to our overall state of well-being.
According to Princeton brain researcher Barry Jacobs, PhD, depression sets in when fewer and fewer new brain cells are created, with stress and age being the leading trigger. Thankfully, depression sufferers don’t need to submit to a diminished quality of life, there is a highly effective, all-natural solution.
University of Montreal scientists (Perreau-Linck et al) have shown that activities like mindfulness have a direct impact on the brain’s production of serotonin levels. It is thought that meditation “bathes” neurons with an array of feel-good chemicals, effectively melting away the stress that leads to low serotonin levels and depression.
In the end, meditation’s serotonin replenishing effect works to create a utopian chemical environment for the production of new brain cells, making you a happier and healthier person.
Meditation reduces cortisol
Cortisol, a major age-accelerating hormone, is the one chemical where less is better. When we are stressed, our bodies produce cortisol and adrenaline in abundance. This is normal, a natural product of our evolution.
However, over the long term, the chemical cocktail present when under chronic stress is not normal, and can tear your body down, destroying healthy muscle and bone, blocking the creation of good hormones, eventually leading to anxiety, depression, increased blood pressure, brain fog, insomnia, inflammation, the list goes on and on. Clearly, too much of this stress hormone is really bad news for your overall physical health.
Luckily, scientists have found a very powerful solution. In 2013, researchers at UC Davis discovered a very powerful connection between mindfulness and cortisol, with remarkable results seen within only a few short weeks.
In fact, another study by a Rutgers University doctor discovered that meditators had a nearly 50% reduction in cortisol levels!
Meditation boosts DHEA
Best known by researchers as the “longevity molecule” and stress counter-puncher, DHEA is one of the most important hormones in the body. As we get older our DHEA levels decrease year after year, opening us up to disease and accelerated aging.
Doctors have measured DHEA levels to find a patient’s physiological “true age”, a far more accurate health marker than “age in years.” In fact, a 12 year study of 240 men (50-79 years) found that DHEA levels were directly linked to mortality. The researchers’ findings were simple yet impactful: the less DHEA you have, the fewer years you have left.
Luckily, meditation provides a dramatic boost in DHEA hormone levels. Dr. Vincent Giampapa, M.D., former President of the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine and current prominent longevity researcher, discovered that meditation practitioners have an incredible 43.77% more DHEA over everybody else! Is meditation the fountain of youth? Many scientists think so.
Meditation boosts GABA
Best known for making you feel calm, GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is one of the major inhibitory neurotransmitters in your central nervous system.
Anyone with an addiction, including alcohol, drugs, tobacco, caffeine, and food, all have one thing in common: lack of GABA. Not having enough of this super-important chemical can create an array of problems, including anxiety, nervousness, racing thoughts, and sleeplessness. Luckily, there is an effective solution.
In 2010, Psychiatrists at the Boston University School of Medicine found a 27% increase in GABA levels after only 60 minutes of mindful exercises – proven even more effective than physical exercise! Researchers were quite surprised by the “more powerful than exercise” finding, but meditation has been practiced over the millennia for very good reason.
Visiting this super-effective neuron soothing state every day during meditation can effectively melt away any anxiety and addiction you may carry, clearing the path for your highest potential to be realized.
Meditation boosts endorphins
Responsible for the all-encompassing sense of happiness we sometimes feel, endorphins are a category of neurotransmitters that the body uses as an internal pain killer. A 1995 study (Harte et al) published in the Biological Psychology Journal tested the neurochemical release of two groups — 11 elite runners and 12 highly trained meditators — after running and meditation, respectively. What did they find? Both groups’ endorphin levels were greatly elevated. Perhaps even more amazing, meditation’s “feel-good effect” scored even higher than running!
Joggers have coined the term “runners high” to describe how wonderful the endorphin rush feels after a nice, long run. This happy, zen-like, alert state of bliss can be a powerful and highly pleasurable experience, going a long way to explain why so many runners are addicted to their sport. Luckily, this wonderful mind-state is readily found through meditation.
Meditation boosts growth hormone
Since the dawn of time, man has sought out the elusive “fountain of youth.” While most people today no longer believe in miraculous, “stay young forever” potions like our ancestors once did, growth hormone (GH) is making a very strong case as the key to turning back the hands of time.
GH stimulates growth during childhood and sustains our tissues and organs today. Starting in your 40s, your pituitary gland, the pea-sized structure at the base of your brain where growth hormone is produced, gradually decreases the amount of GH it creates. The body’s diminishing supply of growth hormone causes the frailty that comes with aging—weaker bones and muscles, increased body fat, poor heart contractions, bad moods, lack of motivation, and fatigue.
With so many benefits to our overall health and well-being, it is easy to understand why movie stars spend $10,000+/year taking GH. But you don’t need to be a millionaire to beat Father Time.
The key state where our brains release the most growth hormone, “Delta” is a key brainwave frequency found during both meditation and the deepest stage of sleep. Perhaps meditators naturally elevated growth hormone levels are why they tend to look so young and healthy? Scientists seem to think so. Session by session, meditation effectively turns back the clock.
Meditation boosts melatonin
Since the beginning of time, our biological clocks have been dictated by Earth’s natural cycles of light and dark. In recent decades, in an effort to become a 24 hour per day, super-productive society, modern man has been experimenting with ever shorter nights and longer and longer days.
This unbalancing, combined with our newfound love of morning to night screen staring, is taking a heavy biological toll on us all. With excessive light being the number “1” enemy of melatonin, perhaps the most important casualty of this epidemic is that we are shutting down our body’s production of this critical chemical.
A key to good mood and restful sleep, melatonin is a hormone manufactured by the pineal gland, with levels in the blood peaking just before bedtime. A chemical “Superhero”, melatonin is known to prevent cancer, strengthen the immune system, slow down aging, and has been linked to helping prevent over 100 different diseases.
Luckily there is a very effective, all natural solution. Rutgers University researchers discovered that melatonin levels for meditation practitioners were boosted by an average of 98%, with many participants having increases of more than an incredible 300%! Incorporating meditation into your life can be your much needed biological re-balancing tool.