Despite the growing popularity of meditation practice around the world to address a number of health issues, there is limited evidence to support its effectiveness.
While stress is common among everyone at some point, persistent stress can eventually contribute to disease and mental illness.
The endocrine system is particularly important in the management of stress, but the functioning of the endocrine system and well-being have been scarcely investigated in relation to meditation.
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland and Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia reviewed a large number of previous studies and analyzed how meditation impacted a number of hormones related to stress.
The study, published in the journal Cell Press, found a connection between meditation, the endocrine system, and health and wellbeing.
Queen’s School of Nursing and Midwifery Cardiovascular Health Reader and study author Dr. Chantal Ski said: “Through the comprehensive literature review, we found that there is a clear link between meditation and stress reduction.
“We focused on studies that analyzed how meditation affected the endocrine system and a number of interconnected systems that regulate stress, such as the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Thyroid (HPT) axis and the Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone (RAA) system.”
Victoria’s Institute for Health and Sport postdoctoral research fellow and study lead Dr. Michaela Pascoe added: “This work shows that meditation influences the regulation of the HPA axis, which may reduce stress levels.
“Another key finding was linked with the 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 RAA system regulates blood pressure, electrolytes and fluid balance.
“Although the scope of research is currently limited, it seems that meditation may also influence the RAA system, corresponding with improved well-being and changes in hormonal stress.”
Meditation is becoming increasingly popular, with over a quarter of British adults practicing meditation as a therapy.
A recent study in the United States cited a threefold increase in practice over the last five years.
Dr. Ski added: “Increased knowledge of the interrelationships between the endocrine system and meditation will lead to the identification of specific meditation 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. Pascoe concluded: “Most studies to date have explored the effect of meditation practice on the HPA axis and much more research is needed to examine other aspects of the endocrine system.
“Whilst it is intriguing that various meditation practices appear to induce changes in endocrine function, and consequently, be associated with improvements in mental health, the underlying associations, and mechanisms that might operate are unclear, though likely involve psychological, physiological and neurological processes.”