New Evidence That Meditation Strengthens the Brain

This new study adds to the mounting evidence that meditation, particularly when practiced regularly for years, is health-affirming in a variety of ways.

From Science Daily:

Earlier evidence out of UCLA suggested that meditating for years thickens the brain (in a good way) and strengthens the connections between brain cells. Now a further report by UCLA researchers suggests yet another benefit.

Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues, have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (“folding” of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate. Further, a direct correlation was found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes.

h/t Amrita McLanahan, MD

Interesting Findings But at What Cost? How Massage Heals Sore Muscles

This study is revealing on more than one level.

First, it clearly documents for the first time that a specific anti-inflammatory process is triggered by massage, involving suppression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and stimulation of the mitochondria, which play a role in cellular repair. For the researchers and the New York Times writer reporting the story, that’s the bottom line.

But after reading it through twice, I find myself appalled at the protocol they used. Taking muscle biopsies on healthy people in order to understand a bodiliy mechanism goes against the grain for me. In essence, what’s being done is to intentionally injure the body in order to understand how it responds to injury. From my perspective, it’s a strange set of bioethics that considers this par for the course. I don’t like this when it’s done to animals and I don’t like it any better when it’s done to consenting humans.

Tiffany Field of the University of Miami Medical School, who is quoted in the article, has for decades been the acknowledged leader in massage research. She’s quite happy with the findings. Much as I would like to be, I find the method through which they were gained to override the benefits they represent.

Their experiment required having people exercise to exhaustion and undergo five incisions in their legs in order to obtain muscle tissue for analysis. Despite the hurdles, the scientists still managed to find 11 brave young male volunteers. The study was published in the Feb. 1 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

On a first visit, they biopsied one leg of each subject at rest. At a second session, they had them vigorously exercise on a stationary bicycle for more than an hour until they could go no further. Then they massaged one thigh of each subject for 10 minutes, leaving the other to recover on its own. Immediately after the massage, they biopsied the thigh muscle in each leg again. After allowing another two-and-a-half hours of rest, they did a third biopsy to track the process of muscle injury and repair.

Vigorous exercise causes tiny tears in muscle fibers, leading to an immune reaction — inflammation — as the body gets to work repairing the injured cells. So the researchers screened the tissue from the massaged and unmassaged legs to compare their repair processes, and find out what difference massage would make.

They found that massage reduced the production of compounds called cytokines, which play a critical role in inflammation. Massage also stimulated mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses inside cells that convert glucose into the energy essential for cell function and repair. “The bottom line is that there appears to be a suppression of pathways in inflammation and an increase in mitochondrial biogenesis,” helping the muscle adapt to the demands of increased exercise, said the senior author, Dr. Mark A. Tarnopolsky.

State University Veterinary School Adds Acupuncture, Herbs and More

Using complementary and alternative methods with animals substantially defangs the classic skeptic’s complaint that it’s all from the placebo effect. This is a trend that will continue to grow. It’s good to see this happening in a state university program.

The Louisiana State University vet school is profiled in this article:

The LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, part of the veterinary school, has broadened its services to include acupuncture, massage therapy and herbal treatments for animals — the large ones for now and dogs and cats soon.

Rebecca McConnico, associate professor of veterinary medicine, said the combination of traditional medicine and newly adopted treatments are referred to as “integrative medicine.” She studied equine acupuncture at the Chi Institute of Chinese Medicine in Reddick, Fla., last year before earning her large animal certification.

“For me and my understanding and experience, (LSU) integrates with — not instead of,” she said, stressing the use of integrative therapies as a complement to traditional Western medicine.

McConnico works mainly with horses — the most common animal to receive this type of treatment. She said horses can benefit from the Eastern-inspired practices, particularly acupuncture.

“We use it in cases where horses have gastrointestinal or neurological disease, chronic pain or non-healing wounds,” McConnico said. “It takes 15 to 20 minutes, and most commonly is performed every four to six weeks for chronic pain.”

If the horse is afraid of needles, the vet staff uses a form of acupuncture called acupressure, wherein pressure is applied to the various points.

McConnico said she has worked with about two dozen animals since her recent certification, including horses, goats and cattle. She said clients are starting to learn about and seek this unique service for their animals.

“It seems to be well-received. Some clients just ask for it and sometimes it’s offered to them. Most are willing to try it.”