The present systematic review is based on the premise that a variety of neurodegenerative diseases are accompanied by grey matter atrophy in the brain and meditation may impact this. Given that age is a major risk factor for many of these progressive and neurodegenerative diseases and that the percentage of the population over the age of 65 is quickly increasing, there is an obvious need for prompt treatment and prevention advances in research. As there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, many are seeking non-pharmacological treatment options in attempts to offset the disease-related cognitive and functional declines. On the basis of a growing body of research suggesting that meditation is effective in increasing grey matter volume in healthy participants, this paper systematically reviewed the literature regarding the effects of meditation on restoring grey matter volume in healthy individuals and those affected by neurodegeneration. This review searched PubMed, CINAHL, and APA PsycNET to identify original studies that included MRI imaging to measure grey matter volume in meditators and post-mindfulness-based intervention participants compared to controls. Thirteen studies were considered eligible for review and involved a wide variety of meditation techniques and included participants with and without cognitive impairment. All studies reported significant increases in grey matter volume in the meditators/intervention group, albeit in assorted regions of the brain. Limited research exists on the mechanisms through which meditation affects disease-related neurodegeneration, but preliminary evidence suggests that it may offset grey matter atrophy.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Parkinson’s disease; dementia; grey matter; meditation; mindfulness; neurodegenerative diseases; neuroprotection.