Meditation, Monks, Nuns and Telomeres

Kristen Sparrow • July 08, 2012

An article from the San Francisco Chronicle hightlights research that has been ongoing on meditation and brain function.  In this article they focus on studies being done at Stanford using fMRI on experienced meditators and what happens to their brains.  For those interested in the details, please click through to the article.  Again, I’m far from a neuroscientist, but one aspect of this was super interesting to me.  They found that people had 30% more telomerase who had been on a 500 hour meditation retreat.  I was aware of telomeres being a measure but I wasn’t aware of telomerase.  We discussed telomeres and aging here, looking at Nobel Prize Winner Blackburn’s company called “Telome” that provides testing to the public. Their test costs $199.  Blackburn sees it as a measure that could be used every 3 months or so to evaluate different diet or exercise regimens, or treatments for that matter.  My ultimate dream would be to see correlations between HRV, which is a cheap and easy “snapshot” of stress levels and patients responses to stimuli such as acupuncture, and telomeres and fMRI.  As the quote highlighted below makes clear, though fMRI gives a lot of information, it is quite expensive.  HRV, much easier, but all the bugs still need to be worked out…
Click here to read the Chronicle article.

“When researchers compared blood samples between the two groups, they found the retreat population had 30 percent more telomerase – the enzyme in cells that repairs the shortening of chromosomes that occurs throughout life. This could have implications for the tiny protective caps on the ends of DNA known as telomeres, which have been linked to longevity.”…
 
Knutson’s monk study at Stanford is in its early stages. He has some data collected from Stanford undergrads to use as part of the control group, but he still needs more novice meditators and monks to go into the MRI machine. It’s an expensive proposition. Subjects are in the machine for eight to 12 hours a day, for three days, at $500 an hour.