Dr Michaela Pascoe on how yoga and meditation can reduce stress and improve your health.

New research from Victoria University and Queen’s University Belfast reveals the link between meditation and improved mental health outcomes.

We all experience stress at some point in our lives, but persistent stress can eventually contribute to cardiovascular disease, stroke, and mental illness. The endocrine system is particularly important in the management of stress but the links between the endocrine system and well-being have been largely unknown.

With more than 2.18 million Australians participating in yoga, and over a quarter of adults practicing meditation as therapy in the UK, it’s clear we’re all looking for better ways to deal with stress.

The research team reviewed a number of previous studies and analysed how meditation impacted some of the hormones related to stress. The study, published today in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism found a connection between meditation, the endocrine system and health and well-being.

Dr Michaela Pascoe, Lead and Corresponding author on the research and postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University said: “This work shows that meditation influences the regulation of the HPA axis, which is a system in the brain involved in responding to stress, indicating that meditation can decrease the possible negative effects of ongoing stress on the brain. Another key finding was linked with the Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Thyroid (HPT) axis, which is a system in the brain that determines and regulates thyroid hormone production and is particularly associated with depression and anxiety.

Dr Chantal Ski, from Cardiovascular Health at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Through the comprehensive literature review, we found that there is a clear link between meditation and stress reduction. We focused on studies that analysed how meditation affected the endocrine system and a number of interconnected systems that regulate stress.”

Dr Ski added: “Increased knowledge of the interrelationships between the endocrine system and meditation will lead to identification of specific meditation practices that are of most benefit to the health and wellbeing of various sections of the population. 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 are associated with improvements in mental health, the underlying associations and mechanisms that might operate to achieve this are unclear, though likely involve psychological, physiological, and neurological processes.”

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