Searching for the philosopher's stone: promising links between meditation and brain preservation

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In the context of an aging population and increased prevalence of dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, developing strategies to decrease the negative effects of aging is imperative. The scientific study of meditation as a potential tool to downregulate processes implicated in brain aging is an emerging field, and a growing body of research suggests that mindfulness practices are beneficial for cerebral resilience. Adding further evidence to this notion, an increasing number of imaging studies report effects of meditation on brain structure that are consistent with our understanding of neuroprotection. Here, we review the published findings in this field of research addressing the question of whether meditation diminishes age-related brain degeneration. Altogether, although analyses are still sparse and based on cross-sectional data, study outcomes suggest that meditation might be beneficial for brain preservation—both with respect to gray and white matter—possibly by slowing down the natural (age-related) decrease of brain tissue. Nevertheless, it should also be recognized that, until robust longitudinal data become available, there is no evidence for causation between meditation and brain preservation. This review includes a comprehensive commentary on limitations of the existing research and concludes with implications and directions for future studies.

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