How can and should meditation be used to restore physical and mental health in a clinical setting? That is the question that Emory University neuroscience graduate student Jordan Kohn posed to begin the latest Neuroethics Journal Club. The discussion thereafter centered on Black et al.’s 2013 Psychoneuroendocrinology paper entitled “Yogic meditation reverses NF-κB and IRF-related transcriptome dynamics in leukocytes of family dementia caregivers in a randomized controlled trial.”1 This paper laudably attempts to bridge the mind-body gap and suggests a biological, and perhaps more importantly, a genetic mechanism to explain how yoga can apparently help relieve stress, protect against depression, and restore immune function in caregivers. The implications of this line of investigation could be widespread as the scientific and medical communities grapple with our fundamental understanding of the mind and body and how to integrate what used to be considered fringe or alternative approaches into the mainstream.
Caregivers for dementia patients have been widely studied because they experience high levels of chronic stress and in turn suffer high rates of depression and other mental and physical health problems.2 Both acute and chronic stress can drastically alter immune system function3 and, not surprisingly, dementia patient caregivers show marked impairments in immunological measures.4 The connection between the immune system and mental health is increasingly studied for its apparent bi-directionality. Sickness behavior – characterized by fatigue, poor sleep, irritability, and lack of appetite – closely resembles major depression. In fact, pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are up-regulated during an infection, can induce depression.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.