Page 7 2012 Vol 1
Research around the world
How meditation shuts down anxiety
Experienced meditators improve their happiness and mental health by ‘turning down’ areas of their brains, say researchers at Yale University.
Associate Professor Judson A. Brewer and his team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor brain activity in experienced and novice meditators as they practised three different meditation techniques. With all three techniques, and even while just resting, the experienced meditators showed reduced activity in the so-called ‘default mode network’ – a network of brain regions associated with lapses of attention (e.g. daydreaming), anxiety and psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.
“The hallmark of many forms of mental illness is a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts,” said Brewer in a Yale press release. He thinks meditators may develop a new default mode that helps them “stay in the moment” and suppress self-centred thoughts. His study was published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA website on 23 November, 2011. Gillian Needleman, a psychologist at Jean Hailes, says, “We know that the way you think has a strong relationship to the way you feel and behave, so meditation that slows and relaxes thought is a powerful way to mitigate stress and improve wellbeing.”
Protein, not sugar, keeps us awake… and thin
Sensible and well balanced eating is a better solution than fad diets
If you suffer a mid-afternoon slump, say UK researchers, a ‘sugar hit’ might not be the answer. Dr Denis Burdakov and his team at the University of Cambridge have shown the brain cells that control wakefulness and energy expenditure (‘orexin cells’) are inhibited by sugar, but activated by the amino acids found in proteins. “Electrical impulses emitted by orexin cells stimulate wakefulness and tell the body to burn calories,” says Burdakov, while reduced activity in these cells is associated with narcolepsy and weight gain.
A snack with more protein will help you wake up and whatever calories it contains will be burnt off faster. Dr Burdakov’s findings were published in the journal Neuron on 17 November, 2011.
“Studies like these are important and add to our overall knowledge of how the body works,” says Terrill Bruere, dietitian at Jean Hailes. “But remember they occur in controlled laboratory conditions that are not the same as everyday living.” For people trying to manage their weight, Terrill recommends a focus on “prevention of slow weight gain over the years… then, if you need to lose weight, consult a health professional for individual advice rather than trying the latest crash diet.”
Sensible and well balanced eating is a better solution than fad diets, says Terrill. “Include lean protein from a variety of low fat sources like dairy, lean meat, legumes and nuts, along with regular exercise that you can sustain as an ordinary part of your life.”
Dieters need dairy
Young women trying to lose weight could lose bone and muscle mass as well as fat unless they include more protein in their diet, particularly from dairy sources, say researchers in Canada.
Andrea Josse, a graduate student at McMaster University, compared three groups of overweight, premenopausal women. The women exercised every day for four months and consumed low, medium or high amounts of dairy foods coupled with higher or lower amounts of protein and carbohydrates.
Total weight loss in each of the three groups was the same – about 4.3kg – but the weight lost by women on the high protein and high dairy diet was 100% fat. Not only that, but these women lost enough fat to offset a 0.7kg gain in lean muscle. By contrast, women on the low protein and medium dairy diet lost a little muscle mass, while those on the low protein and low dairy diet lost about 0.7kg of muscle (and therefore lost 1.4kg less fat than the first group).
“The preservation or even gain of muscle is very important for maintaining metabolic rate and preventing weight regain,” said Josse in a press release, adding that “increasing calcium and protein in the diet may help to further promote loss of fat from the worst storage area in the body [the abdomen].”
Dietitian Terrill Bruere says the McMaster study helps to explain why foods that contain not just carbohydrates but also a variety of other nutrients (like protein and fibre) are more satisfying to eat and less likely to lead to overeating or a tired slump later on. “If you are hungry,” says Terrill, “add some yoghurt or unsalted nuts to your fruit rather than sweet biscuits. Make a sandwich rather than having lots of toast and keep your serves of rice and pasta to about a quarter of your plate.”
Content Updated February 2012