Wednesday, November 23, 2005

ADD: Meditation, not medication?

Very interesting article in The New Scientist. Apparently meditation, even if you've never done it before, restores your reaction time even faster than a nap does, and also alters the structure of the brain.

"What effect meditating has on the structure of the brain has also been a matter of some debate. Now Sara Lazar at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, US, and colleagues have used MRI to compare 15 meditators, with experience ranging from 1 to 30 years, and 15 non-meditators.

They found that meditating actually increases the thickness of the cortex in areas involved in attention and sensory processing, such as the prefrontal cortex and the right anterior insula.

“You are exercising it while you meditate, and it gets bigger,” she says. The finding is in line with studies showing that accomplished musicians, athletes and linguists all have thickening in relevant areas of the cortex. It is further evidence, says Lazar, that yogis “aren’t just sitting there doing nothing".

The growth of the cortex is not due to the growth of new neurons, she points out, but results from wider blood vessels, more supporting structures such as glia and astrocytes, and increased branching and connections.

The new studies were presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, in Washington DC, US."

The article does not mention attention problems, but it certainly begs the question. Many researchers have gotten good results with biofeedback treatment for ADD, another type of meditative state. Click here for a menu of articles from EEG Spectrum International, a clinician-run research institute.

Somewhat tangentially related is an article in the New York Times, This is Your Brain Under Hypnosis, which discussed top-down brain processing and how it can override sensory input in states of hypnosis or meditation. Personally, I find "self-hypnosis" very similar to meditation. In both states, one becomes detached from current physical reality to contact the subconscious. The ironic thing is that Klaus, my ADD boy, is also highly susceptible to that hypnotic state. He sleeps with his eyes open frequently and has done since he was a baby. I wonder if that means his prefrontal cortex is overdeveloped, which is why he pays attention to too many things at once? Or is it underdeveloped because his hypnotic state is less controlled by his conscious brain, as a meditative state would be?

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