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Researchers confirm link between meditation and stress reduction

Persistent stress can eventually contribute to disease and mental illness.
Seanín Graham

THE "clear link" between meditation and improved mental health has been borne out in a joint study by academics from Northern Ireland and Australia.

Researchers from Queen's University Belfast and Victoria University Melbourne reviewed a large number of studies and analysed how meditation impacted on hormones related to stress.

With more than a quarter of UK adults now using meditation practices, techniques including mindfulness and 'nurture' rooms have also been introduced in primary schools across the north in recent years.

Sacred Heart Boys PS, located in one of the most deprived areas of north Belfast, has been funding its own nurture room for almost two years to tackle issues including poverty, social exclusion and mental health.

Published in Cell Press, the academic study found a connection between meditation, the endocrine system and health and wellbeing.

The endocrine system is a network of glands in your body that make the hormones that help cells talk to each other. They're responsible for almost every cell, organ and function.

The new research noted that the system is important in the management of stress - but the functioning of the endocrine system and wellbeing have been "scarcely investigated".

And they said while stress is common among everyone at some point, persistent stress can eventually contribute to disease and mental illness.

Dr Chantal Ski, author and reader in cardiovascular health at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s, said: "Through the comprehensive literature review, we found that there is a clear link between meditation and stress reduction.

"We focused on studies that analysed how meditation affected the endocrine system and a number of interconnected systems that regulate stress such as the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA), the Hypothalamic Pituitary Thyroid (HPT) axis and the Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone (RAA) system."

Dr Michaela Pascoe, lead research author and postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University, said their work revealed that meditation influences the regulation of the HPA axis - which may reduce stress levels.

"Another key finding was linked with the Hypothalamic Pituitary Thyroid (HPT) axis, which determines and regulates thyroid hormone production and is particularly associated with depression and anxiety. The findings indicate that meditation and yoga influenced the HPA axis to a varying degree."

The study said that further knowledge of the relationship between the endocrine system and meditation will lead to identification of specific practices that are of most benefit to the health and wellbeing of various populations.

"Given the multitude and severity of health issues related to persistent stress, it is paramount that more research is carried out in this area to help inform effective future healthcare policies among different groups as this could only lead to huge health benefits as well as financial benefits with more effective treatments in place," Dr Ski added.

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