We’ve all heard the broad-stroke reasons of why meditation is inherently good for us. When adopted as part of a routine, the practice:
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Promotes better sleeping habits
- Increases energy and focus
- Produces a ton of benefits that we can see – and feel – in our daily actions
But what are the chemicals that are the driving force behind these improvements?
Granted, meditation affects a far-reaching collection of brain and body functions that eventually lead to these physical and mental benefits.
But behind the scenes, there are a few chemicals that are being increased, and boosted, that become the driving force behind these wonderful effects.
Let’s take a closer peek at these individual chemicals that are naturally enhanced or boosted through meditation, and how they help us achieve an overall happier and healthier state of mind.
Out of the roughly 86 billion cells in our brains, almost every one is influenced by the chemical serotonin.
Known by doctors, scientists and researchers alike as the "happy" neurotransmitter, serotonin is instrumental in keeping our moods in check.
An absence of serotonin, effectively leads to depression, impulse issues, and lack of motivation, just to name a few side effects.
Thankfully, meditation boosts serotonin, ensuring a healthy supply of this happy chemical, in all stages of life.
Also known as the "longevity molecule" by researchers and scientists, DHEA is known as one of the most important hormones in the body when it comes to aging.
Serving as a more accurate marker for a person’s “true” age as opposed to actual age in years, DHEA levels are linked to some health conditions and milestones, which includes mortality.
The good news is that researchers have found that regular meditation produces a dramatic increase in DHEA hormone levels, which includes one recent study that found that meditation fans had almost 44% higher DHEA levels than the rest of the population.
As such, meditation can truly be heralded as a “fountain of youth” of sorts, thanks to the noticeable boost in this key chemical.
Formally known as gamma aminobutyric acid, and informally known as the “calm chemical,” GABA is one of the major inhibitory neurotransmitters in a person’s central nervous system.
This chemical is most discussed in conversations about addiction, as not having enough of this essential chemical can lead to a dependence on drugs, alcohol, tobacco, food and even caffeine.
Virtually anyone who suffers from addiction also suffers from a lack of GABA, with side effects that include anxiety, racing thoughts, and a lack of sleep.
Happily, several studies have shown that regular meditation practice increases this chemical tremendously, which includes a 2010 study by the Boston University School of Medicine which found a 27% increase in GABA levels in patients after just 60 minutes of mindful meditation practice.
As a result, people who practice meditation can both help addictions and keep impulsive behavior at bay, by ensuring that there is never a GABA shortage.
Any marathon runner or frequent meditation practitioner can attest that endorphins are a wonderful thing. Described commonly as a “natural high,” endorphins are a category of neurotransmitters that essentially serve as a naturally produced pain killer.
Joggers and runners alike have coined the feeling of a sudden rush of endorphins as a Runners’ High, but as it turns out, meditation can create this feeling as well – without the extra legwork. Several studies have tracked the boost and effects of this
Several studies have tracked the boost and effects of this feel-good chemical, and have found that the endorphin levels of people who practiced meditation were just as high as marathon runners – and, often, even higher!
Known as the key to a great mood and a great night’s rest, melatonin is manufactured by the pineal gland, which peaks in the blood just before bedtime.
This essential chemical is considered a superhero in the mind and body, as among its many functions, it prevents cancer, strengthens the immune system, and slows down aging – all in addition to helping us enjoy a sound and solid sleep.
Meditation boosts melatonin to unbelievably high levels, (more than 300% according to at least one study by Rutgers University researchers), which means that this bodily cure-all is always in steady supply for mindfulness meditation devotees.
There are so many facets of the body and mind that are helped by meditation, which are truly too numerous to list. From reducing cortisol to increasing growth hormones, meditation truly is a “miracle cure.”
So continue your practice - or get started if you’ve been on the fence about meditation - knowing that your entire brain and body will benefit.
With continual medical research that follows our bodies’ chemical responses, you can rest assured that you’re naturally producing a better lifestyle with every mindfulness meditation session.
Having a professional teacher on your side will go a long way in getting you started. Once you’re on the path, you’ll be amazed at how far meditation will take you.