The effect of a single session of acute mindfulness meditation on endothelial function

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Authors
Soo Lum, Darius
Keyword
mindfulness , meditation , vascular endothelium , cardiovascular health , endothelial function , autonomic nervous activity , Eastern practices , wellbeing , physiology , contemplative science
Abstract
Mindfulness meditation (MM) is associated with some improvements in cardiovascular health in addition to mental wellbeing. Vascular endothelial function, an indicator of overall cardiovascular health, is influenced strongly by sympathetic nervous activity that is altered by acute meditation. Only a few studies have noted that mindfulness improves the vascular endothelium after chronic mindfulness programs, however it is still unknown to what degree a single acute session of MM may affect endothelial function especially in young, healthy subjects. We hypothesized that an acute MM session would transiently improve endothelial function. Secondarily, we sought to characterize the meditative state using electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain activity, heart rate variability (HRV) to measure autonomic activity, and MM questionnaires to assess subjective state mindfulness. Twelve healthy young adults (21 ± 2 years) with no meditation experience participated in two experimental visits each involving a 20-minute MM condition or an active control condition. We assessed endothelial function before and after each condition using reactive hyperemia-induced flow-mediated dilation (RH-FMD). We did not detect a change in endothelial function after MM or the active control (RH-FMD: p = 0.582), and MM did not stimulate an increase in EEG alpha power or HRV (alpha power: p = 0.568; HRV: p = 0.395). The subjective MM questionnaire revealed no change in state mindfulness after either condition (p = 0.800). We also correlated RH-FMD with both EEG alpha power and HRV during MM and found no significant relationships (RH-FMD versus alpha power: r2 = 0.39, p = 0.054; RH-FMD versus HRV: r2 = 0.39, p = 0.086). The secondary measures did not confirm that the subjects achieved the intended meditative state. It therefore remains unclear whether a successful MM can acutely improve endothelial function. The type of MM employed in an acute session may be the most critical factor for generating both cognitive and physiological effects in novice meditators. Further research is needed to determine whether a meditative state can transiently affect vascular endothelial function.
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