This article shows that short-term meditation can affect white matter in the brain. Why would that matter to a cancer patient? One of the premises of mind-body medicine is awareness and self-regulation. Increased ability to self-regulate is associated with improved Quality of Life (QoL) of cancer patients and better management of the biopsychosocial effects associated with a diagnosis of cancer and the side effects associated with cancer treatment.
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is part of a network implicated in the development of self-regulation and whose connectivity changes dramatically in development. In previous studies we showed that 3 h of mental training, based on traditional Chinese medicine (integrative body–mind training, IBMT), increases ACC activity and improves self-regulation. However, it is not known whether changes in white matter connectivity can result from small amounts of mental training. We here report that 11 h of IBMT increases fractional anisotropy (FA), an index indicating the integrity and efficiency of white matter in the corona radiata, an important white-matter tract connecting the ACC to other structures. Thus IBMT could provide a means for improving self-regulation and perhaps reducing or preventing various mental disorders (Tang et al., 2010, p. 15649).
The Bottom Line:
In Mind-Body Skills Groups participants learn how to use one of the meditation techniques used by Tang et al. (2010). The authors describe the following practice
The trainees concentrated on achieving a balanced state of body and mind guided by an IBMT coach and the compact disc. The method stresses no effort to control thoughts, but instead a state of restful alertness that allows a high degree of awareness of body, mind, and external instructions from a compact disc (Tang et al., 2010, pp. 15650-51).
Up until now it was assumed that a change in brain matter through mindfulness meditation would take months-even years (Tang et al., 2010) but that seems not to be the case. Tang et al. (2010) showed that in as little as 6h but less than 11h increased fractional anisotropy (FA) (an index measuring the efficiency of white matter in the ACC connecting the ACC to other structures of the brain). Tan et al. (2010) go on to say that differences in FA might be “…responsible for individual differences in executive attention” (p. 15649).
That is great news, but the authors also mention that basal immune system function, as measured by secretion of immunoglobulin A (sIgA) was positively (dose-dependent) affected as the amount of training increased from 3 to 11h (Tang et al., 2010).
A Quick Review of Immunoglobulins
Immunoglobulins are antibody molecules that are produced in response to foreign invaders, recognizing viral and bacterial invaders, binding to them, and ridding the body of invaders before they have a chance to reach plasma or other internal spaces (Devlin, 2006).
Of the five classes of immunoglobulins (IgG, IgA, IgD, IgE, and IgM) IgA is considered our first line of defense, primarily found in bronchial, nasal, and intestinal mucosal secretion as well as tears, milk, and colostrum (Devlin, 2006).
One can see how a cancer patient’s already compromised immune system could potentially benefit by “reinforcing front line defenses.”
Given the possible combined benefits of improving self-regulation and increase in mucosal immunity, a case could be made for the psychoneuroimmunological benefits of meditation in the oncological setting.
Of course more research is needed to make a firm claim that meditation has indeed a positive effect on IgA secretion in cancer patients.
Clement Communications, Inc. (1990). You are an original! Retrieved from http://ihm.nlm.nih.gov/luna/servlet/detail/NLMNLM~1~1~101449665~158022:You-are-an-original?sort=Title%2CSubject_MeSH_Term%2CCreator_Person%2CCreator_Organization&qvq=q:mind;sort:Title,Subject_MeSH_Term,Creator_Person,Creator_Organization;lc:NLMNLM~1~1&mi=31&trs=32#
Devlin, T. (2006). Textbook of biochemistry : with clinical correlations (6th ed.). Hoboken N.J.: Wiley-Liss.
Tang, Y.-Y., Lu, Q., Geng, X., Stein, E. A., Yang, Y., & Posner, M. I. (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(35), 15649–15652. doi:10.1073/pnas.1011043107
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APA: W Absenger. (2012.06.19). Tang et al. (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate [Web log post]. Retrieved from The Alternative Medicine Blog at http://amacf.org/2012/06/tang-et-al-2010-short-term-meditation-induces-white-matter-changes-in-the-anterior-cingulate.html
MLA: Absenger, Werner. ” Tang et al. (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate.” The Alternative Medicine Blog. The Alternative Medicine Blog. 19 JUNE. 2012. Web. Insert your date of access here.