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Brain and immune changes in cancer survivors after mindfulness

Posted 01.19.2021 | by AMRA

Research shows that mindfulness practice can reduce pro-inflammatory biomarkers related to illness onset and disease progression. Little is known, however, about how meditation-induced changes in inflammation are connected to brain activity. Mindfulness training can reduce fear in response to threat by reducing activity in the amygdala. It can also increase or decrease response to various rewards by modifying activity in the ventral striatum. Fear reduction and reward enhancement are important aspects of how mindfulness facilitates well-being.

Dutcher et al. [Psychoneuroimmunology] studied whether meditation-induced changes in brain activity were correlated with changes in pro-inflammatory biomarkers among breast cancer survivors.

The researchers assigned 22 female breast cancer survivors who had completed primary treatment (average age = 47 years; 60% white) to a Mindfulness Awareness Practices program developed by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. Participants met in weekly 2-hour groups over 6 weeks. Class sessions included didactic material on mindfulness, relaxation, and mind-body relationships, and experiential practice with a variety of meditation techniques to cultivate positive emotions.

Participant blood was collected by venipuncture before and after intervention to quantify levels of two pro-inflammatory biomarkers, the cytokine Interleukin-6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP). Participants also underwent fMRI brain scans before and after intervention.

Participants engaged in two tasks while being scanned. The first task, intended to stimulate amygdala activity, was a threat reactivity task involving viewing images of threatening facial expressions interspersed with an emotionally neutral task. The second, intended to stimulate ventral striatum activity, was a reward reactivity task involving viewing positively emotionally-toned images of landscapes, sunsets, smiling faces interspersed with neutrally emotionally-toned images of common household objects.

Results showed the women reported significantly decreased depression (d=-0.57) and […]

January 19th, 2021|News|

HIV+ men show lasting reduction in viral load after wellness program

Posted 01.15.2020 | by AMRA

Taken properly, anti-retroviral medications successfully reduce viral loads in people living with HIV infections, helping them to maintain health and reduce disease transmission. Persons with HIV who use methamphetamines often fail to get the full benefit of their anti-retroviral medications. Such stimulant users are more likely to skip medication doses, engage in high-risk sexual behavior, and show signs of hastened AIDS progression.

Carrico et al. [Journal of the International AIDS Society] studied whether an add-on intervention designed to boost positive affect can increase the efficacy of a contingency management program. Contingency management involved offering financial rewards for clean drug tests, and the add-on intervention included elements of mindfulness training.

The researchers randomly assigned 110 HIV+ men who engaged in anal sex with other men and tested positive for methamphetamine use (average age = 43 years; 43% Caucasian) to the add-on intervention called Affect Regulation Treatment to Enhance Methamphetamine Intervention Success (ARTEMIS), or an attention-control condition.

Both groups also participated in a 3- month contingency management program offering financial rewards for maintaining stimulant-free urine samples. The period of active contingency management coincided with participation in the 3 month-ARTEMIS or attention-control group, and financial rewards were not continued after 3 months.

The ARTEMIS intervention consisted of 5 individual 1-hour training sessions delivered over a 3-month period. The program provided training in noticing and savoring positive events, mindfulness, gratitude, altruism, self-compassion, positive reappraisal, and reaching attainable goals. The training included breath-focused and loving-kindness meditations, values clarification, and psychoeducation on stimulant withdrawal. The attention-control condition consisted of 5 individual 1-hour sessions in which participants were administered psychological tests and engaged in neutral writing exercises.

Assessments occurred at baseline, and at 3, […]

January 15th, 2020|News|

Meditation retreat linked with immune cell gene expression

Posted 12.19.2019 | by AMRA

The human genome is the sum total of genes encoded in our DNA. Epigenetics is the study of how these genes get turned on and off to produce physiological effects. For example, epigenetic changes in the immune system play a central role in disease onset and aging.

We may be able to alter our epigenetic activity through behavioral changes in exercise, diet, and stress reduction. While stress reduction practices have previously been found to down-regulate the immune system and inflammation, little is known about how such practices affect immune system epigenetics.

DNA strands are wrapped around protein complexes called histones. Genes can be turned on or off through methylation (the addition of carbon atoms bonded to four hydrogen atoms) of the histones adjacent to DNA gene segments.

Chaix et al. [Brain, Behavior and Immunity] studied the effect of intensive mindfulness meditation on the methylation of immune cell (lymphocyte and monocyte) genes in experienced meditators after one day of intensive meditation.

The researchers recruited 19 experienced meditators (average age = 50; 58% female; 84% Caucasian) and 21 meditation-naïve controls (average age = 50; 57% female; 84% Caucasian). Meditators had a minimum of 3 years of meditating at least 30 minutes a day and attended at least 3 intensive meditation retreats.

The meditators had their blood drawn before and after an 8-hour period of intensive mindfulness meditation similar to a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction all-day retreat. Controls had their blood drawn before and after 8 hours of leisure activities such as reading, playing computer games, watching documentaries, and walking.

Blood draw immune (mononuclear) cell DNA was analyzed for methylation levels at over 400,000 separate DNA sites. After quality filtering, usable data […]

December 19th, 2019|News|

MBSR supports immune health among breast cancer survivors

Posted 05.28.2019 | by AMRA

Newly diagnosed breast cancer patients often experience significant psychological distress including symptoms of depression, sleep disturbance, and fatigue. They can also exhibit stress-induced immune system compromises that have the potential to accelerate tumor growth and metastasis. Interventions that restore psycho-immunological balance may also help improve cancer treatment outcomes.

Witek-Janusek et al. [Brain, Behavior, and Immunity] tested the effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on psychological and immunological functioning in newly diagnosed breast cancer patients in an experimental trial.

The researchers randomly assigned 164 women (average age = 55 years; 77% Caucasian) recently diagnosed with early stage breast cancer who had undergone surgery to either a standard MBSR or an active control condition. The active control consisted of eight 2.5 hour group sessions providing information on breast cancer, cancer treatment, communication with health providers, and other health-related topics. Attendance in both programs was fairly good, with 68% of MBSR and 78% of control participants attending at least 7 of the group sessions.

Each participant’s psychological status was assessed pre-intervention, mid-intervention, post-intervention, and at 1- and 6-month follow-ups for perceived stress, depression, sleep quality, fatigue, and mindfulness (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire).

The researchers also measured natural killer cell anti-tumor activity (NKCA), monocyte production of Interleukin-6 (IL-6) and Interferon-gamma (INF-ɣ), and the amount of IL-6 and Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-α) present in blood plasma. NKCA prevents tumor growth and metastasis, and is thus associated with longer cancer-free periods. NK cells produce INF-ɣ, an anti-tumor cytokine which is a key immune system activator. IL-6 and TNF-α are pro-inflammatory cytokines that promote tumor progression and aggressiveness.

The results showed that the MBSR group had significantly greater increases in two protective immunological factors […]

May 28th, 2019|News|

MBSR and exercise both reduce cold and flu frequency, severity

Posted 07.17.2018 | by AMRA

Acute respiratory infections including colds and flu affect over 50% of the population annually. Interestingly, our psychological states and behaviors can affect our susceptibility to these infections. People who are under stress or otherwise unhappy are more likely to catch acute respiratory infections, while people who exercise regularly are less likely to catch them.

Barrett et al. [PLOS One] conducted a randomized controlled study to test the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and moderate intensity sustained exercise on the frequency, duration, and severity of colds and flu compared to a control group.

The researchers recruited 413 volunteers (average age = 50 years, 76% female, 85% white, 77% college educated) and randomly assigned them to a MBSR, exercise, or non-active control group. The MBSR and exercise interventions were matched on group size, program length, session frequency, and the amount of home practice (20-45 minutes).

The interventions were conducted in the fall, and participants were monitored for colds and flu from fall through spring. During this time, participants completed weekly health reports. If participants developed an infection, they completed daily reports until symptoms abated.

Additionally, they provided oral and nasal swabs to assess their immune response and identify viruses. Participants completed a variety of mental health and personality measures at baseline and at various points along the study timeline. Absenteeism, the number of respiratory infection-related medical appointments, and illness related costs were also assessed.

The study found that the MBSR and exercise groups both reduced acute respiratory infection incidence, duration, and severity. Compared to controls, the MBSR group showed a 16%, reduction in incidence, a 14% reduction in duration, and a 21% reduction in severity. Compared to controls, […]

July 17th, 2018|News|