Scientists from Germany conducted an objective assessment of the connection between regular meditative practices and the reduction of cortisol by measuring the level of this hormone in the hair of volunteers.
Meditation, which has been part of spiritual practice in Eastern religions for thousands of years, has repeatedly confirmed its benefits for the mental and physical health. However, in all scientific studies that examined the effects of “mind relaxation” techniques on everyday stress, participants were asked to self-assess changes in their well-being. The objectivity of such results is very conditional, since volunteers often take wishful thinking.
To get more accurate data, scientists from the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Brain. Max Planck decided to study the level of cortisol in the hair of people who meditate regularly. Typically, levels of the “stress hormone” are measured in blood samples, but this method of assessment can produce inconsistent results because cortisol concentrations can vary throughout the day. As hair grows, it retains a “trace” of a person’s lifestyle, including molecules of many hormones. On average, human hair grows by one centimeter every month, which makes it possible to fairly accurately estimate cortisol levels over different periods of time.
The study involved three groups of 80 people who practiced meditation under the guidance of specialists six times a week for 30 minutes for nine months. During the classes, volunteers were taught techniques aimed at improving concentration, practicing mindful behavior and the ability to “step back” from their thoughts. To compare the effectiveness of different techniques, different training programs were compiled for all three groups.
After six months, the scientists assessed the level of cortisol in the hair of all participants. On average, the hormone level decreased by 25%, with only a slight improvement observed in the first month, the effect increased over time. It is noteworthy that these indicators were comparable in all three groups of participants, that is, they did not depend on specific meditation techniques.
After another month, the researchers again collected hair samples from the volunteers. It turned out that the concentration of cortisol in all participants remained at a stable low level. According to scientists, this suggests that long-term meditation practice is necessary to obtain long-term effects in the fight against everyday stress.
“Our results suggest that daily mental training for 3-6 months can mitigate long-term stress in adults,” the study authors said.