The Science of What Meditation Does to the Brain

Science of meditation brain regions
Regions of the brain affected by meditation
Brain scans have shown that meditation produces real therapeutic effects, it improves the health of the brain and promotes psychological well-being; neuroscience is revealing the different types of meditation affect different parts of the brain offering the possibility that we can use meditation to deliberately change brain structure to achieve specific effects and target specific mental health problems.
I teach meditation adapted specifically for anxiety, bipolar and depression, click here for information on my meditation classes


Just a few months of meditation brain training can:-

  • reduce depression,
  • reduce anxiety,
  • regrows lost grey matter and white matter in the brain compensating for lost connections observed in bipolar and depression,
  • reduces stress induced inflammation in the brain that causes mental health problems,
  • improve emotional processing in the anterior cingulate cortex,
  • reduce overactivity in the amygdala
  • improve sleep

Meditation regrows lost grey matter observed in depression, bipolar and schizophrenia

Numerous studies have shown that even just as little as 8 weeks of meditation increases the thickness of the grey matter in the frontal cortex (the grey matter is the all-important thinking part of the brain if you want the processing part), it also increases the size and density of connections in the hippocampus[i][ii].
 
One of the consistent findings in depression and bipolar disorder is shrinkage and a loss of grey matter in the frontal cortex of the brain and hippocampus, it’s believed that this is primarily caused by another consistent finding in the conditions which is increased inflammation in the brain and meditation has also been shown to reduce brain inflammation.
 
Over time the loss of synaptic connections in the cortex and hippocampus in depression and bipolar can result in a decline in memory and cognitive abilities.
 

Meditation reduces inflammation in the brain [iii]

Elevated inflammation in the brain is observed in almost all mental health problems, it is believed to be the primary driving force behind many mental health problems. Meditation probably reduces neuro-inflammation in several different ways, meditation reduces stress which is a major source of inflammation, it may also have direct effects on inflammatory responses.
 
In my practice besides meditation I teach relaxation brain training techniques that directly train the brain to switch off the HPA stress physiology that causes inflammation in the brain associated with mental health problems.
 

Just 8 weeks of meditation begins to produce the same health benefits seen in the brains of long-term meditators

The early studies revealing the beneficial effects of meditation on the brain were performed upon very long-term expert meditators, monks with as much as 10,000 hours of meditation, this is hardly practical 10,000 hours would take 2 hours a day for over 13 years. The good news is research has shown that you can achieve effective therapeutic results in as little as 8 weeks[iv] although I would never recommend this little practice. In my clinic I recommend performing 50 hours of meditation brain training completed in no less than 3 months and no more than 6 months, this equates to 20-30 minutes per day at least 6 days a week; my observation is after 50 hours people consistently report a reduction in anxiety symptoms of between 30 to 50% and depression symptoms between 30 to 40% (although I must be clear I’m just stating my anecdotal opinion based on clinical observations, I’m not making a scientific factual claim).
 

Meditation treats depression

Meditation can be used during phases of depression as a treatment[v]. My personal experience was always that when I was clinically depressed I could not meditate, I can only use meditation when I was only very slightly depressed or in between depression phases; having said that I found meditation to be highly effective for preventing relapses and maintaining my wellness. Furthermore beyond just preventing relapses into depression meditation noticeably improves my state of well-being and resilience to external stresses.
 
If you regularly suffer from depression whenever you should engage in meditation brain training whenever you are able to, combats depression in multiple ways. I have to say I’ve never seen anybody cure themselves completely just through the use of meditation but what I have seen is everyone that completed between 50 and 75 hours of meditation brain training obtains significant reductions in the severity of the condition; depression can be a stubborn condition with complex multiple causes so rather than looking for one single cause and one single solution is to overcome the condition I encourage you to treat it on multiple fronts and meditation is a unique stand-alone treatment that does things no other technique can achieve.
 
It’s common in science to have disagreement in the research and there are quite a few studies that fail to show meditation helps depression and anxiety however according to Kelly McGonigle a well-known American psychologist a meta-analysis (comparison of multiple scientific studies) concluded that the number of papers showing meditation had an antidepressant effect exceeded the number of papers showing it didn’t by 400 this is very conclusive proof that meditation has a real antidepressant effect.
 

Meditation can be as effective as antidepressants that preventing relapse

Some studies have shown meditation to be as affective as antidepressant at preventing depression relapses but without the side-effects[vi]. If you have chronic recurrent depression and rely on antidepressants to prevent relapses that you don’t like the side-effects or your brain begins to habituate to the antidepressants that they stop working and then meditation brain training may provide just as effective alternative for preventing relapse.
 
Another key strategy for preventing depression relapses is to eliminate background inflammation in the brain, by eradicating anything and everything that triggers inflammation including dietary triggers, stress triggers, hidden stealth infections including bacterial overgrowth in the intestines and more; elsewhere I write extensively about the new understanding that depressive illness is primarily caused by inflammation whether inflammation comes from physical sources or psychological sources.
 

And 8 week training in meditation can reduce anxiety and depression for over 3 years

A study showed that just 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation significantly reduced anxiety and depression and the gains were still present 3 years later[vii]. This is a remarkable result vastly superior to any current pharmaceutical therapy.
 

Meditation reduces overactivity in the default mode network a feature of depression and anxiety

I discuss the default mode network in detail elsewhere, (see How Meditation Treats the Depressed Brain, Is an Overactive Default Mode Network Causing Your Depression and Anxiety?) but in simple terms it’s a brain network involved in rumination on depressing and anxious thoughts and it has been shown to be overactive in the depressed and anxious brain. Meditation has been shown to produce lasting inhibition of this overactivity in the default mode network [viii].
 

Meditation reduces inflammation in the brain now known to be a major if not the main trigger for many mental health problems including depression, bipolar, OCD, schizophrenia, PTSD

It has been observed for decades that increased inflammation in the brain is a ubiquitous finding amongst people with the majority of mental health problems, however it was not known whether inflammation was just a side issue or caused by the mental health problem or whether the inflammation was actually causing the mental health problem in some way. Since the late 2000’s it has become clear that inflammation is a driving force that changes the function of key structures in the brain involved in mental health problems, it also changes neurotransmitter balance.
 
There is some evidence that meditation inflammation in various ways including even altering the expression of genes involved in inflammation.[ix][x]
 

Meditation reduces pain

If you live with chronic pain from injury, arthritic conditions, neurological conditions, fibromyalgia[xi] et al you would be wise to engage in the course of meditation, it’s a safe, drug free and long-lasting treatment for pain[xii][xiii]. You may think that learning to meditate when you have chronic pain will be difficult but you might be pleasantly surprise to discover that quite quickly the meditation begins to reduce the pain making it progressively easier to meditate.
 

Meditation reduces anxiety

There are literally hundreds of scientific papers showing that meditation has an antianxiety effect, there are so many papers on this effect you can easily look up references yourself. A meta-analysis (comparison of multiple studies) from Norway 2012 [ref] showed the number of scientific studies demonstrating meditation had an antianxiety outnumbered the studies that fail to show an antianxiety effect by 700; there are drugs currently in use with less scientific proof than this.
 

Meditation improves sleep

There are several studies showing meditation improves sleep, interestingly meditation may decrease the need for sleep[xiv]; my personal experience is when I am not meditating regularly I need a lengthy 9 hours of sleep a day to maintain my optimum cognitive abilities, however when I am meditating regularly this drops to 7 ½ hours giving me an extra 1½ of usable daytime.
 

Meditation counteracts excessive reactivity in the amygdala involved in mental health problems

COMING SOON
 

Meditation improves the function of the anterior cingulate cortex involved in anxiety

COMING SOON
 
See:-
Meditation the Default Mode Network Anxiety and Depression
Meditation Regrowing the Hippocampus and Cortex in Depression
Choosing the Best Meditation for Depression Anxiety and Bipolar
Meditation Classes for Bipolar Depression Anxiety
I specialise in treating and coaching people with mental health problems how to obtain better mental health with natural remedies and self-help techniques. If you would like me to look into your individual case and develop a tailor-made programme of natural remedies, dietary advice and brain training exercises I’m available for private consultations at my London clinic and online for people that live too far away.
I also run regular meditation classes in London and online.
Click on the 
bookings tab to make an appointment.
I’m passionate about treating mental health and I’d be very happy to work with you.
 
[i] NeuroImage Volume 45, Issue 3, 15 April 2009, Pages 672-678 The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter Eileen Ludersa et al https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.12.061
[ii] doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006 PMCID: PMC3004979 NIHMSID: NIHMS232587 PMID: 21071182 Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density
[iii] Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Volume 27, January 2013, Pages 174-184 Brain, Behavior, and Immunity A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation Melissa A.Rosenkranza et al https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2012.10.013
[iv] Brain Cogn. 2016 Oct;108:32-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2016.07.001. Epub 2016 Jul 16. 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice - A systematic review. Gotink RA et al
[v] Psychosomatics. 2015 Mar-Apr; 56(2): 140–152. 2014 Oct 22. doi: 10.1016/j.psym.2014.10.007 PMCID: PMC4383597 NIHMSID: NIHMS636855
PMID: 25591492 Critical Analysis of the Efficacy of Meditation Therapies for Acute and Subacute Phase Treatment of Depressive Disorders: A Systematic Review
Felipe A. Jain, et al
[vi] The Lancet VOLUME 386, ISSUE 9988, P63-73, JULY 04, 2015 Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence (PREVENT): a randomised controlled trial Dr Willem Kuyken, PhD et al Open AccessPublished:April 20, 2015DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)62222-4
[vii] Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders John J.MillerM.D. Et al
https://doi.org/10.1016/0163-8343(95)00025-M
[viii] Meditation leads to reduced default mode network activity beyond an active task
Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2015 Sep; 15(3): 712–720. doi:  10.3758/s13415-015-0358-3 PMCID: PMC4529365 NIHMSID: NIHMS684151 PMID: 25904238
[ix] A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation Melissa A.Rosenkranza et al
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2012.10.013
[x] Alterations in Resting-State Functional Connectivity Link Mindfulness Meditation With Reduced Interleukin-6: A Randomized Controlled Trial J. David Creswell et al
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.01.008
[xi] Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2017 Sep; 19(9): 59. doi:  10.1007/s11926-017-0686-0 PMCID: PMC5693231 NIHMSID: NIHMS916892 for PMID: 28752493 Mindfulness Meditation for Fibromyalgia: Mechanistic and Clinical Considerations Adrienne L. Adler-Neal et al
[xii] Brain Cogn. 2016 Oct;108:32-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2016.07.001. Epub 2016 Jul 16. 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice - A systematic review. Gotink RA et al
[xiii] Ann N Y Acad Sci. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2017 Jun 1. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016 Jun; 1373(1): 114–127. doi:  10.1111/nyas.13153 PMCID: PMC4941786 PMID: 27398643 Mindfulness meditation–based pain relief: a mechanistic account Fadel Zeidan and David Vago
[xiv] Behav Brain Funct. 2010; 6: 47. Published online 2010 Jul 29. doi:  10.1186/1744-9081-6-47 PMCID: PMC2919439 PMID: 20670413 Meditation acutely improves psychomotor vigilance, and may decrease sleep need Prashant Kaul, et al
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Hi my name is Peter Smith I specialise in treating and coaching people how to live well with mental health problems, digestive health problems/IBS, sleep problems and type II diabetes using natural therapies.
I used these techniques to overcome and live well with my own bipolar disorder and IBS. I've been in practice as a natural medicine practitioner since 1988.
 

What I Treat

  • Brain Chemistry and Mental Health problems (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, addiction, OCD)
  • Digestive Health: IBS, bloating, SIBO (which can be the cause of  60% of IBS) and parasites (with external lab testing)
  • Mercury and Heavy Metal Detoxification (with external lab testing)
  • Addiction (by balancingbrainchemistry, supporting healthy dopamine levels etc.)
  • Meditation and Relaxation brain-training for mental health problems, and adrenal exhaustion (individual and small classes)
  • Cognitive hypnotherapy and NLP
  • Drug-Free better Sleep
  • Insulin resistance, pre- and early type II diabetes
DISCLAIMER 
 
If you’d like treatment for any of the issues discussed in this article I specialise in treating and coaching people how to obtain better mental health with natural remedies and self-help techniques. If you would like me to look into your individual case and develop a tailor-made programme of natural remedies, dietary advice and brain training exercises I’m available for private consultations and I’m available for private consultations at my London clinic and online for people that live too far away.
I also run regular meditation classes in London and online.
I’m passionate about treating mental health and I’d be very happy to work with you.
Click on the
bookings tab to make an appointment.
To Book an Appointment
At my London clinic please call the Hale clinic reception:
020 7631 0156
(online bookings will be made available soon on the Hale Clinic website**)

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(please keep your email brief)

As a general rule improvements are seen within 2-3 appointments so you can quickly know if the treatments are helping you and you are making a good investment.
For a more information about me and what the conditions I treat click here: About About Peter Smith
 
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