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Cortical thickness ups in seniors after group-based mindfulness

Posted 02.26.2021 | by AMRA

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a decline in cognitive performance that is more severe than that of normal aging, yet less severe than that of dementia. Patients with MCI are at risk for developing dementia, and researchers are interested in treatments that can forestall or prevent the progression to dementia onset. Since mindfulness-based interventions are associated with improvements in attention and increases in brain gray matter cortical thickness, they may be able to help slow or prevent the progression to dementia.

Yu et al. [Journal of Psychiatric Research] compared changes in cognitive functioning and brain cortical thickness in older adults with MCI who participated in either a nine-month mindfulness-based intervention or a control group.

The researchers randomly assigned 54 Singaporean adults (average age=71; 74% female) diagnosed with MCI to either a mindfulness training or health education program. MCI diagnosis was based on subjective reports of cognitive difficulty and a battery of objective neuropsychological tests with final diagnosis made by expert panel consensus. Both interventions met in 45-minute group sessions on a weekly basis for the first 3 months, and then on a monthly basis for the final 6 months of the study.

The mindfulness program included exercises in focused sensory attention, the body scan, walking meditation, and gentle movement meditation. The health education control included didactic instruction on chronic illness, medication compliance, diet, exercise, and relaxation.

Participants were assessed at baseline, 3 months, and 9 months. Assessments included CT scans of the brain and neuropsychological measures of working memory (digit span), divided attention (a trail making task with interference), verbal memory, verbal fluency and, visuospatial processing. CT scans of the brain were evaluated for region […]

February 26th, 2021|News|

Experienced MBSR teachers show higher cortisol, unrelated to stress

Posted 04.23.2019 | by AMRA

Little is known about the impact of many years of mindfulness practice on the body’s response to stress. Robb et al. [Complementary Medicine Research] conducted a pilot study that measured salivary cortisol levels in a group of long-term mindfulness practitioners. Salivary cortisol is a biological measure that is highly reactive to stress. The researchers predicted that morning cortisol levels would be lowest for meditators with the most meditative experience.

Salivary cortisol levels typically peak during the first hour after waking up, and then decline throughout the rest of the day. Morning cortisol levels tend to be higher when under acute stress, and tend to be lower in states of exhaustion and burnout following long-term stress.

The authors recruited 83 certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teachers (73% female; 96% Caucasian; average age = 58; 92% with graduate degrees) to participate in the study. The participants completed an online questionnaire assessing a variety of health and lifestyle variables, perceived stress, and the extent of their meditation practice. They were then asked to produce a saliva sample upon first waking up, followed by 3 additional samples collected at 15-minute intervals. The total amount of cortisol produced during the first 45 minutes after awakening was then estimated using area under the curve (AUC) calculations.

The results showed that participants in the upper quartile of meditative experience (>26 years) had significantly higher (48%) total estimated morning cortisol amounts than those in the lowest (<10 years) quartile. The relationship between years of meditative experience and total morning cortisol remained significant when meditation experience was treated as a continuous variable.

In a closer examination of the data, this difference between participants in the […]

April 23rd, 2019|News|

Daily brief meditation takes more than four weeks to boost mood

Posted 09.27.2018 | by AMRA

Meditation practice reliably demonstrates beneficial effects for memory, attention, mood, and emotional regulation. It is unclear, however, whether there is a minimum dosage necessary to attain these benefits.

Basso et al. [Behavioural Brain Research] measured the benefits of meditation in a group of meditation-naïve participants by assigning them to either daily brief guided meditations or to a control group, and measuring their changes in mood and cognition over time.

The researchers randomly assigned 72 meditation-naïve participants to either a meditation audio or a podcast audio. The meditation group listened to 13-minute guided meditations daily for 8 weeks. The meditations included breath-focused exercises and a body scan practice. The podcast group listened to 13-minute excerpts from NPR’s Radiolab podcast daily for 8 weeks.

Participants underwent neuropsychological and psychological evaluations and salivary cortisol (a stress hormone) assessments at baseline, 4 weeks, and 8 weeks. Computer-administered neuropsychological tests included measures of attention, working and recognition memory, and response inhibition. The psychological tests measured mindfulness (Mindful Attention Awareness Scale or MAAS), mood, stress, depression, anxiety, rumination, sleep quality, fatigue, quality of life, self-esteem, and life satisfaction.

Following the final assessments, participants were subjected to a stress-inducing task. They were told to prepare for a job interview and deliver a five-minute presentation on why they should be hired in front of two stone-faced judges. They were then told to perform a difficult serial subtraction problem. Whenever they made an arithmetic mistake, they were instructed to start the problem over from the beginning.

Subjective measures of anxiety were taken at baseline, immediately after, and at 10, 20, and 30-minute intervals after the stress-inducing tasks. Salivary cortisol levels were also assessed at each of […]

September 27th, 2018|News|

Body scan meditation during chemotherapy changes stress

Posted 05.18.2017 | by AMRA

Being diagnosed and treated for cancer can be highly stressful, and prolonged stress often alters the body’s normal stress response. For example, the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) secreted by the adrenal gland typically varies over the course of the day, peaking upon morning awakening and gradually diminishing throughout the day. Prolonged stress blunts this biological response so that the difference between morning and afternoon cortisol levels is much smaller.

Cancer survivors often show this kind of blunted cortisol response—reduced daily variation and reduced reactivity to stress. This blunting of stress reactivity is associated with greater disease progression and shorter survival times for many types of cancers. It’s possible that somehow preventing this blunting may improve patient outcomes. Prior research shows that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can limit cortisol blunting across the day in breast and prostate cancer patients.

Black et al. [Cancer] conducted a randomized, controlled test of whether a brief mindfulness activity could reduce the blunting of acute cortisol reactivity in colorectal cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy infusion.

The researchers randomly assigned 57 adults with colorectal cancer (average age = 54 years; 51% Male; 66% non-Hispanic, 33% Hispanic/Latino) who were undergoing chemotherapy infusion to one of three conditions: 1) a standard chemotherapy control group, 2) a chemotherapy + cancer education attention control group, and 3) a mindfulness meditation + cancer education group.

Saliva samples (to assess cortisol levels) were drawn four times during the hour-long chemotherapy infusion: at the start of infusion and at three 20-minute intervals thereafter. The patients also completed self-report measures of stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue during the past week, as well as general levels of mindfulness (using a short form […]

May 18th, 2017|News|

Parental mindfulness and stress response in mother-infant pairs

Posted 01.25.2017 | by AMRA

Dispositional mindfulness is the generalized tendency to be mindful in daily life, but mindfulness levels can also be situational. Parenting-specific mindfulness, for example, is mindfulness occurring within the context of parenting. It’s the tendency to be nonjudgmental, accepting and emotionally aware of and compassionate toward oneself and one’s child, and to be able to listen to one’s child with full attention. Parenting-specific mindfulness may benefit the parent-child relationship by helping parents and children cope with stress within the family relationship.

Laurent et al. [Developmental Psychology] tested this hypothesis by measuring the impact of both maternal dispositional mindfulness and parenting-specific mindfulness on maternal and infant stress hormone (cortisol) levels during and after exposure to a stressor.

The researchers recruited 73 low-income mother-infant pairs (77% Caucasian; average maternal age = 27; 51% married; median income=$10,000-$19,000) who were part of a larger longitudinal study. At 3 months postpartum, the mothers completed self-report measures of dispositional mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), parenting-specific mindfulness (Interpersonal Mindfulness in Parenting-Infant Version) and the degree of life stress during the prior three months.

At 6 months postpartum, the mother-infant pairs participated in a “still face” task in which the mother maintained an unwavering neutral facial expression while face-to-face with her infant for two full minutes. The mother’s failure to react to the infant’s attention-getting bids during this task is stressful for the infant, who striving to regain the mother’s attention and failing to do so, may start to whine or cry in response to not receiving attention.

Samples of maternal and infant saliva were obtained prior to, immediately after, and 15 and 45 minutes after the still face task. The saliva was assayed […]

January 25th, 2017|News|

Higher mindfulness helps couples recover from stress during conflict

Posted 02.15.2016 | by AMRA


All romantic relationships have conflicts, and resolving them requires couples to remain calm and open as they explore their differences. This is easier said than done when couples are stressed and not always on their best behavior. Can mindfulness protect us from the stress resulting from negative behaviors during disagreements? Laurent, et al. [Hormones and Behavior] investigated the relationship between state mindfulness, the stress hormone cortisol, and negative conflict behavior in couples who were discussing their differences.

The researchers recruited 88 heterosexual couples (predominantly Caucasian, average age = 21) who were in a relationship for at least 2 months, and had them engage in a 1hour 45 minute long discussion of an unresolved relationship conflict. The researchers wanted a sample of the couples’ behaviors so that the hormonal and attitudinal correlates of those behaviors could be studied. The discussions were taped and coded for control, coerciveness, anger, negativity/conflict, verbal aggression, and emotional withdrawal.

After the discussion, partners completed the Toronto Mindfulness Scale, a measure of state mindfulness comprised of Curiosity (an attitude of openness towards experience) and Decentering (dis-identifying with experience). The researchers also drew five salivary cortisol samples at fixed time intervals before and after the relationship conflict discussions. Cortisol data was analyzed in terms of overall reactivity (a measure of stress intensity) and slope of recovery (a measure of how long it takes to return to normal after stress).

When women were confronted with partner attempts at control, coercion, and negativity/conflict, their cortisol levels took significantly longer to return to normal if they reported low levels of Curiosity. The less they adopted a stance of friendly curiosity towards their experience, the longer their […]

February 15th, 2016|News|

Does mindfulness reduce stress by altering brain function?

Posted 07.21.2015 | by AMRA


Does mindfulness reduce stress by altering brain function? The amygdala—a small, almond-shaped structure located in the brain’s limbic system—is known to play a key role in the stress response. Previous research has shown that increased connectivity (a measure of the degree to which brain structures inter-coordinate) between the amygdala and other limbic and cortical structures is associated with greater stress levels.

In two separate studies, Taren et al. [Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience] investigated how the amygdala’s resting connectivity with nearby brain structures correlates with stress, and whether that connectivity changed in response to a mindfulness-based intervention (MBI). In doing so, the researchers aimed to identify one of the main brain pathways underlying the effect of mindfulness practice on stress levels. In an initial study, 130 healthy men and women self-reported perceived stress levels and participated in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the resting functional connectivity between the amygdala and nearby brain structures.

In a second randomized, single-blind study using an active control group, 35 unemployed adults with moderate-to-high levels of perceived stress were assigned to either a three-day intensive residential mindfulness retreat modeled after MBSR which included the body scan, sitting and walking meditation, and mindful eating and yoga, or a three day intensive relaxation retreat which included walking, stretching, and didactics emphasizing relaxation rather than mindfulness.

Amygdala connectivity was assessed by fMRI before and after each intervention. Four months later, hair samples were taken and assayed for stress hormone (cortisone and cortisol) levels over the post-intervention period. This study demonstrated that participants with higher levels of perceived stress had significantly greater degrees of connectivity between the right side of the […]

July 21st, 2015|News|

Eating for pleasure: Biomarker identified for mindful eating

Posted 06.15.2015 | by AMRA


Eating is often an enjoyable experience, and at times we eat more for pleasure (“hedonic eating”) than to provide nutrition or reduce hunger. Since pleasure occurs in response to the brain’s release of endogenous opioids (morphine-like neurotransmitters manufactured in the brain), the opioid system plays an important role in hedonic eating. This activity can be measured indirectly by administering naltrexone, an opioid-blocking drug that triggers cortisol secretion and sensations of nausea.

Prior research has shown that overweight women with larger cortisol or nausea responses to naltrexone are more prone to binge and emotional eating and less likely to gain weight during a mindfulness-based overeating intervention. Mason et al. [Appetite] sought to replicate and extend these findings in a large-scale randomized, controlled study of weight-loss programs with and without a mindfulness component.

Eighty-eight obese women (mean age = 47, mean BMI = 36 kg/m2) were randomly assigned to five-month diet-and-exercise-based weight-loss programs which included either a mindfulness component (based on MBSR and MB-EAT) or an active control component that included cognitive-behavioral techniques and progressive muscle relaxation.

Both programs involved sixteen 2 to 2.5 hour-long group sessions and one all-day session. Prior to randomization, participants were assessed for their naltrexone-induced salivary cortisol and nausea responses. Participants self-rated their food addiction, binge-eating, and reward-based, mindful, and emotional eating before and after treatment.

Participants’ naltrexone-induced cortisol responses were significantly correlated positively with reward-based eating and food addiction, and negatively with mindful eating. Participants with the largest cortisol responses in the mindfulness group showed significantly greater reduction in food addiction symptoms than participants with the largest cortisol responses in the control group.

Women who experienced naltrexone-induced nausea reported a statistically greater […]

June 15th, 2015|News|

Mindfulness traits protect women from stress hormone

Posted: 07.29.2014 | by AMRA


We know that stress, anxiety, and worry can take their tole on the body, in part through the activity of stress hormones such as cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal gland. If one is under stress or prone to worry and anxiety, can one’s level of mindfulness reduce the body’s responsiveness to it?

Daubenmier et al. [Psychoneuroendocrinology] explored the degree to which the ability to accept and describe stressful mental events (as measured by the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills or KIMS) helped protect a cohort of 43 overweight/obese premenopausal women from stress-related increases in cortisol after waking up in the morning.

The women were administered standard measures of perceived stress, negative affect, anxiety, and rumination and had their cortisol awakening response (CAR) assessed over the course of four mornings — CAR is a measure of how steeply cortisol levels rise in one’s saliva during the first 30-45 minutes after awakening. It’s thought that CAR reflects the body’s response to thinking and ruminating about stress upon waking up.

All four measures of psychological distress were significantly positively associated with steeper CARs — the more anxious, worried, or unhappy the research participants were, the faster their waking cortisol levels rose. On the other hand, the participants’ abilities to mindfully describe and accept their negative thoughts and emotions were significantly negatively associated with CAR steepness — the more mindful they were, the less dramatic the rise in their cortisol.

The greater their ability to describe their thoughts and emotions, the greater their protection from the effects of anxiety and negative mood on cortisol. The greater their ability to accept their thoughts and emotions, the greater the […]

July 29th, 2014|News|

Mindfulness Intervention for Cancer Survivors Shows Superiority

Posted from archive: 10.01.2013 | by AMRA


Carlson el al. [Journal of Clinical Oncology] studied a large sample (N=271) of distressed breast cancer survivors who were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions: (1) Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery (MBCR), (2) Supportive-Expressive Group Therapy (SET) or (3) one-day didactic stress management control (SMS).

Participants were survivors of Stage I-III breast cancer who were no longer in the active phase of treatment and who reported moderate or higher levels of distress but who were free from severe mental illness. MBCR and SET are both empirically validated treatments for psychological distress in breast cancer survivors, and this study is the first head-to-head comparison of their efficacy. Outcome measures included quality of life, social support, and stress-related symptomatology, as well as salivary cortisol measured at regular intervals four times a day over the course of three days both prior to and after intervention.

MBCR and SET participants both maintained their initial steep diurnal cortisol slope after treatment (a desirable stress response), whereas SMS controls showed a flattening in their slope (a dysregulated stress response). These results suggest that MBCR and SET both exert a protective effect against stress-related biological disruption. MBCR participants showed a significantly greater reduction in self-reported stress symptoms than either SET or SMS participants, and a significantly greater improvement in quality of life than SMS participants.

The MBCR group also showed a significantly greater improvement in perceived social support than SET participants, which was a surprise given that SET emphasizes social support. The authors interpret the findings as evidence for MBCR’s superiority as a treatment for psychological distress in breast cancer survivors.


Carlson, L. E., Doll, R., Stephen, J., Faris, P., Tamagawa, […]

January 10th, 2014|News|