Psychological stress is a major contributor to symptom exacerbation across many chronic inflammatory conditions and can acutely provoke increases in inflammation in healthy individuals. With the rise in rates of inflammation-related medical conditions, evidence for behavioral approaches that reduce stress reactivity is of value. Here, we compare 31 experienced meditators, with an average of approximately 9000 lifetime hours of meditation practice (M age=51years) to an age- and sex-matched control group (n=37; M age=48years) on measures of stress- and inflammatory responsivity, and measures of psychological health. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was used to induce psychological stress and a neurogenic inflammatory response was produced using topical application of capsaicin cream to forearm skin. Size of the capsaicin-induced flare response and increase in salivary cortisol and alpha amylase were used to quantify the magnitude of inflammatory and stress responses, respectively. Results show that experienced meditators have lower TSST-evoked cortisol (62.62±2.52 vs. 70.38±2.33; p<.05) and perceived stress (4.18±.41 vs. 5.56±.30; p<.01), as well as a smaller neurogenic inflammatory response (81.55±4.6 vs. 96.76±4.26; p<.05), compared to the control group. Moreover, experienced meditators reported higher levels of psychological factors associated with wellbeing and resilience. These results suggest that the long-term practice of meditation may reduce stress reactivity and could be of therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions characterized by neurogenic inflammation.
Keywords: Alpha amylase; Cortisol; HPA-axis; Inflammation; Stress.
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