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Over on the loneliness thread we've discussed how loneliness (or perhaps even simply living alone) can increase mortality (PMID 21834390). And as Zeta pointed out in this post about this article, loneliness can aggravate chronic viral infections, which in turn are associated with more rapid cognitive decline, as discussed in this post about PMID 26710257. 


So besides practicing CR, which at least in some of us seems to promote psychological resilience and a sense of "calm abiding", what can we do to avoid the apparent negative effects (esp. inflammation) resulting from loneliness, and stress/anxiety in general?


This new study [1] (popular press article) from CMU1 researchers, and some of the papers it cites (see below) suggest a solution, namely mindfulness meditation, a practice I find quite helpful, as discussed here.


Study [1] was a randomized control trial comparing the effects of 3-days of mindfulness training vs. relaxation training in 35 stressed and unemployed job seekers. Using FMRI brain imaging, they found that mindfulness training (vs. relaxation training) positively influenced activity in both the default mode network (the network of areas in the brain that becomes active when we aren't engaged in deliberate thought - e.g. when ruminating) and in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain area involved in executive function. 


But most importantly for this topic, they found that four months after the intervention, those in the mindfulness meditation group had reduced levels of an important marker of inflammation, interleukin-6, relative to the relaxation training group. This effect was independent of whether during the intervening 4 months the subjects found a job or not, which half of the subjects in each group in fact did.


Some of the interesting commentary on the research expressed by the authors in the popular press article :


The researchers concluded that the changes in functional brain connectivity resulting from the mindfulness program seemed to help the brain manage stress (a known inflammation trigger), and therefore is responsible for the reduced levels of inflammation.
Why does it seem to be more beneficial than mere relaxation for managing stress? [Lead researcher] Creswell suggests that mindfulness may have a more lasting impact. 
"Mindfulness meditation teaches participants how to be more open and attentive to their experiences, even difficult ones," Creswell said. "By contrast, relaxation approaches are good in the moment for making the body feel relaxed, but ... [they're] harder to translate when you are dealing with difficult stressors in your daily life." 


In the full text of the paper, the authors point to a number of other recent studies [2-5] that have found mindfulness meditation reduces both stress and inflammatory markers in the elderly, people experiencing job stress, as well as cancer patients and caregivers.


Study [2] by this same group of researchers is particularly germane for this topic, since it investigated the effects of mindfulness meditation on feelings of loneliness and inflammation in elderly subjects. People who did 8 weeks of once-per-week mindfulness classes reported reduced loneliness and exhibited a decrease in pro-inflammatory gene expression relative to a control group from the waiting list for the mindfulness training. I resonated with this quote from the introduction of [2]:


“Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It's restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle [through meditation practice], we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down”
-- Pema Chodron (2000), Buddhist nun and teacher


 These were small studies and not without some shortcomings - e.g. the mindfulness training classes themselves might have reduced loneliness in [2]. But they are nonetheless suggestive evidence that practicing mindfulness meditation can help one deal with the negative effects of loneliness and stress in general.





1CMU is my alma mater and is located in Pittsburgh. Those Pittsburgh scientists are really churning out interesting research!



[1] Biological Psychiatry, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.01.008


Alterations in resting state functional connectivity link mindfulness meditation with reduced interleukin-6: a randomized controlled trial, 


J. David Creswell PhD, Adrienne A. Taren MD, Emily K. Lindsay MA, Carol M. Greco PhD, Peter J. Gianaros PhD, April Fairgrieve BS, Anna L. Marsland PhD, Kirk Warren Brown PhD, Baldwin M. Way PhD, Rhonda K. Rosen LCSW, Jennifer L. Ferris MA


Full text: http://dx.doi.org.sci-hub.io/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.01.008




Mindfulness meditation training interventions have been shown to improve markers of health, but the underlying neurobiological mechanisms are not known. Building on initial cross-sectional research showing that mindfulness meditation may increase default mode network (DMN) resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) with regions important in top-down executive control (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, dlPFC), here we test whether mindfulness meditation training increases DMN-dlPFC rsFC, and whether these rsFC alterations prospectively explain improvements in interleukin-6 (IL-6) in a randomized controlled trial.
Stressed job-seeking unemployed community adults (N=35) were randomized to either a 3-day intensive residential mindfulness meditation or relaxation training program. Participants completed a five-minute resting state scan before and after the intervention program. Participants also provided blood samples at pre-intervention and at 4-month follow-up, which were assayed for circulating IL-6, a biomarker of systemic inflammation.
We tested for alterations in DMN rsFC using a posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) seed-based analysis, and found that mindfulness meditation training, and not relaxation training, increased PCC rsFC with left dlPFC (p<.05, corrected). These pre-post training alterations in PCC-dlPFC rsFC statistically mediated mindfulness meditation training improvements in IL-6 at 4-month follow-up. Specifically, these alterations in rsFC statistically explained 30% of the overall mindfulness meditation training effects on IL-6 at follow-up.
These findings provide the first evidence that mindfulness meditation training functionally couples the DMN with a region known to be important in top-down executive control at rest (left dlPFC), which in turn is associated with improvements in a marker of inflammatory disease risk.
Trial Registration
The RCT is registered on clinicaltrials.gov (#NCT01628809)
Key words:
mindfulness meditation, functional connectivity, IL-6, unemployment, fMRI, stress
[2] Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Oct;26(7):1095-101. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.07.006. Epub 2012 Jul 20.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: a small randomized controlled trial.
Creswell JD1, Irwin MR, Burklund LJ, Lieberman MD, Arevalo JM, Ma J, Breen EC, Cole SW.
Lonely older adults have increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes as well as increased risk for morbidity and mortality. Previous behavioral treatments have attempted to reduce loneliness and its concomitant health risks, but have had limited success. The present study tested whether the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program (compared to a Wait-List control group) reduces loneliness and downregulates loneliness-related pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults (N = 40). Consistent with study predictions, mixed effect linear models indicated that the MBSR program reduced loneliness, compared to small increases in loneliness in the control group (treatment condition × time interaction: F(1,35) = 7.86, p = .008). Moreover, at baseline, there was an association between reported loneliness and upregulated pro-inflammatory NF-κB-related gene expression in circulating leukocytes, and MBSR downregulated this NF-κB-associated gene expression profile at post-treatment. Finally, there was a trend for MBSR to reduce C Reactive Protein (treatment condition × time interaction: (F(1,33) = 3.39, p = .075). This work provides an initial indication that MBSR may be a novel treatment approach for reducing loneliness and related pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults.
PMID: 22820409
[3] Malarkey WB, Jarjoura D, Klatt M (2013): Workplace based mindfulness practice and inflammation: A randomized trial. Brain Behav Immun. 27: 145–154.
[4] Rosenkranz MA, Davidson RJ, MacCoon DG, Sheridan JF, Kalin NH, Lutz A (2013): A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain Behav Immun. 27C: 174–184.
[5] Lengacher CA, Kip KE, Barta MK, Post-White J, Jacobsen P, Groer M, et al. (2012): A Pilot Study Evaluating the Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Psychological Status, Physical Status, Salivary Cortisol, and Interleukin-6 Among Advanced-Stage Cancer Patients and Their Caregivers. J Holist Nurs. 30: 170–185.
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Pema Chodron is a national treasure. And I was deeply saddened when I learned that Thich Nhat Hanh had a stroke last year. A lifetime of meditation won't protect even the best amongst us from the ravages of living in these bodies. Yet Hanh is back in Plum Village now, apparently recovering from the stroke. Meditation is just a small but beautiful piece of the puzzle.

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I have nothing at all against mindfulness meditation but as a lifelong migraine sufferer I find myself bristling when I read studies like this because it's something that's so often recommended by 1) doctors who take women's complaints less seriously than men's, and 2) insurance companies that don't want to pay for treatment. 

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Thanks, Dean,


I prefer a more direct health-related outcome.  So I searched PubMed for "mindfulness" and "all-cause mortality".  I got one hit [1], a randomized trial, with quite a decent amount of subjects followed for almost two years.  All-cause mortality was combined with other likely adverse outcomes for the heart disease patients, and they did not break them down, but the result was not significant.  They said subjects might have walked a little faster and had lower heart rates, the latter of which is associated with less all-cause death, but then do not say what the values of the latter were for mindfulness plus usual care versus only usual care, not even an alternative factor such as relaxation for the comparison group.


[1] Web-Based Mindfulness Intervention in Heart Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

Younge JO, Wery MF, Gotink RA, Utens EM, Michels M, Rizopoulos D, van Rossum EF, Hunink MG, Roos-Hesselink JW.
PLoS One. 2015 Dec 7;10(12):e0143843. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143843. eCollection 2015.
PMID: 26641099 Free PMC Article
Evidence is accumulating that mindfulness training has favorable effects on psychological outcomes, but studies on physiological outcomes are limited. Patients with heart disease have a high incidence of physiological and psychological problems and may benefit from mindfulness training. Our aim was to determine the beneficial physiological and psychological effects of online mindfulness training in patients with heart disease.
The study was a pragmatic randomized controlled single-blind trial. Between June 2012 and April 2014 we randomized 324 patients (mean age 43.2 years, 53.7% male) with heart disease in a 2:1 ratio (n = 215 versus n = 109) to a 12-week online mindfulness training in addition to usual care (UC) compared to UC alone. The primary outcome was exercise capacity measured with the 6 minute walk test (6MWT). Secondary outcomes were other physiological parameters (heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and NT-proBNP), subjective health status (SF-36), perceived stress (PSS), psychological well-being (HADS), social support (PSSS12) and a composite endpoint (all-cause mortality, heart failure, symptomatic arrhythmia, cardiac surgery, and percutaneous cardiac intervention). Linear mixed models were used to evaluate differences between groups on the repeated outcome measures.
Compared to UC, mindfulness showed a borderline significant improved 6MWT (effect size, meters: 13.2, 95%CI: -0.02; 26.4, p = 0.050). There was also a significant lower heart rate in favor of the mindfulness group (effect size, beats per minute: -2.8, 95%CI: -5.4;-0.2, p = 0.033). No significant differences were seen on other outcomes.
Mindfulness training showed positive effects on the physiological parameters exercise capacity and heart rate and it might therefore be a useful adjunct to current clinical therapy in patients with heart disease.
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Dear All, I will write my contribution to the discussion, sorry for the bad english, I have two little children and limited time to review the text.


I think that the field of the effect of meditation are till now not so much studied but promising.

I have find for example this two interesting studies (but with small groups of people) [1] about yoga, where they say that yoga reduces the activity of NF-kB gene and [2] about mindfullness.

I have started when I was very young the practise of zen meditation and taijiquan . My interest was, how to say, existentialist. At the time I was a student of physics and I enjoyed a lot the study of physics and mathematics but in everyday life I was experimenting a certain degree of sufference due in part to family reasons. So I was attracted by the reading of books by Herrigel, Alan Watts, etc. and I searched a center where begin to practise.

The main objective of buddism is not to live longer or healthy, but to access to our divine nature (that is called in various ways: Dao, Buddha Nature,etc...)

I have never perceived contrast between my practise of Zen and Taijiquan and my love for science.

Buddhism actually has a galileian approach.


The reputation of mindfulness comes mainly from the work of Jon- Kabat Zinn. He implemented this buddist techinque in the hospitals and other centers.

Now it is applied everywhere, also in context very far, like company management, to become more efficient at work,etc.

Regarding that , I agree with the opinion of Joan Halifax at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when she says she’s concerned the lords of finance are using meditation for unjust ends, ignoring the moral principles embodied in Buddhism.

“You can train people with meditation to be sharpshooters,” she says. “Are they trying to get smarter so they can exploit more people? Or are they interested in creating a more just financial system?”




[1] Yoga reduces inflammatory signaling in fatigued breast cancer survivors: A randomized controlled trial, JE Bower, 2014




Yoga is a popular mind–body therapy that has demonstrated beneficial effects on psychological, behavioral, and functional outcomes. However, few studies have investigated effects on inflammatory processes. This study tested the hypothesis that an Iyengar yoga intervention specifically designed for fatigued breast cancer survivors would lead to decreases in inflammation-related gene expression and circulating markers of proinflammatory cytokine activity.


Breast cancer survivors with persistent cancer-related fatigue were randomized to a 12-week Iyengar yoga intervention (n = 16) or a 12-week health education control condition (n = 15). Blood samples were collected at baseline, post-intervention, and at a 3-month follow-up for genome-wide transcriptional profiling and bioinformatic analyses. Plasma inflammatory markers and salivary cortisol were also assessed.


In promoter-based bioinformatics analyses, the yoga group showed reduced activity of the pro-inflammatory transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB), increased activity of the anti-inflammatory glucocorticoid receptor, and reduced activity of cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) family transcription factors relative to controls (all ps < .05). There was also a significant intervention effect on the soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor type II (sTNF-RII), a marker of TNF activity; plasma levels of sTNF-RII remained stable in the yoga group, whereas levels of this marker increased in the health education group (p = .028). A similar, non-significant trend was observed for the interleukin 1 receptor antagonist (p = .16). No significant changes in C reactive protein (CRP), interleukin 6 (IL-6), or diurnal cortisol measures were observed.


A 12-week restorative Iyengar yoga intervention reduced inflammation-related gene expression in breast cancer survivors with persistent fatigue. These findings suggest that a targeted yoga program may have beneficial effects on inflammatory activity in this patient population, with potential relevance for behavioral and physical health.

PMID: 24703167

Link: http://www.psyneuen-journal.com/article/S0306-4530(14)00044-4/abstract

[2] Rapid changes in histone deacetylases and inflammatory gene expression in expert meditators, P. Kaliman, 2014



A growing body of research shows that mindfulness meditation can alter neural, behavioral and biochemical processes. However, the mechanisms responsible for such clinically relevant effects remain elusive.


Here we explored the impact of a day of intensive practice of mindfulness meditation in experienced subjects (n = 19) on the expression of circadian, chromatin modulatory and inflammatory genes in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). In parallel, we analyzed a control group of subjects with no meditation experience who engaged in leisure activities in the same environment (n = 21). PBMC from all participants were obtained before (t1) and after (t2) the intervention (t2 − t1 = 8 h) and gene expression was analyzed using custom pathway focused quantitative-real time PCR assays. Both groups were also presented with the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST).


Core clock gene expression at baseline (t1) was similar between groups and their rhythmicity was not influenced in meditators by the intensive day of practice. Similarly, we found that all the epigenetic regulatory enzymes and inflammatory genes analyzed exhibited similar basal expression levels in the two groups. In contrast, after the brief intervention we detected reduced expression of histone deacetylase genes (HDAC 2, 3 and 9), alterations in global modification of histones (H4ac; H3K4me3) and decreased expression of pro-inflammatory genes (RIPK2 and COX2) in meditators compared with controls. We found that the expression of RIPK2 and HDAC2 genes was associated with a faster cortisol recovery to the TSST in both groups.


The regulation of HDACs and inflammatory pathways may represent some of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic potential of mindfulness-based interventions. Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions.


PMID: 24485481 

Link: http://www.psyneuen-journal.com/article/S0306-4530(13)00407-1/abstract

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I like Zen Bhudhism myself (no inconsistancy with Orthodox Judaism). I and my wife enjoyed a one-day stay at the Chapin Mill Zen Bhuddist retreat in Batavia, NY.


I enjoy seated meditation, starting with the usual breathing exercises.


And and my wife I enjoyed in participating in a Mindfullness eight week (2 hours every Wed. evening), free to members of the University of Rochester community (and spouses), run by Prof. Michael Krasner.




-- Saul

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I like Zen Bhudhism myself (no inconsistancy with Orthodox Judaism). I and my wife enjoyed a one-day stay at the Chapin Mill Zen Bhuddist retreat in Batavia, NY.


-- Saul



Hi Saul, in fact many Buddist American teachers (ir practioner) are Jewish in origin, some of them are very famous (Leonard Cohen, Allen Ginsberg, ...) (the following list is from  wikipedia): 

Notable people[edit]

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  • 4 months later...

Dear ALL,


I thought that you might be interested in this note that I sent to Terry Fralich -- who had studied with the Dalai Lama for 25 years, in Tibet:


My name is Saul Lubkin.  I'm a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Rochester.  I have been practicing insight meditation for about 10 years:  In meditation, I do breathing exercises and invoke a witnessing procedure, observing my thoughts.

The University of Rochester offers free programs on "Mindfulness and Meditation", and on "Mindfulness Based Stress Release", for faculty, staff and students.  I've attended two such classes, and will be attending a third in July, each course presenting a two hour session once a week, each session running for 6 or 8 weeks (the 8 week session including a one day retreat at a Zen Bhuddist Center).

I had the good fortune to visit Kripalu for three days last week -- and on reading the details describing your evening sampler last week -- including the 25 years that you spent studying with the Dalai Lama -- I immediately decided to attend your sampler.

I was not disappointed.

In the classes that I had attended at the University of Rochester, mindfulness was defined as "being present in the moment".   I found this very useful.  However, at your presentation, on answering a question posed by an attendee, you indicated that mindfulness is much more than that.  You noted that when one has negative thoughts, one can invoke the witness to observe these thoughts, thus putting them somewhat at a distance; and that this can be a first step in redirecting your thoughts back to more positive thoughts.

I have adopted this procedure, and have found it extremely useful.

I've saved the handout that you gave us at your presentation.

I wanted to thank you for your valuable sampler presentation, and for helping me, and I'm sure others, to deepen and improve our practice.

Respectfully yours,

Saul Lubkin


Note to the CR Forum:  Councellor Fralich responded positively to my Note, and recommended a book that he's written, that I have purchased (as an ebook) from Amazon.


  -- Saul

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