Surprising Connection Between Meditation and Skin Inflammation

​Meditation and mindfulness can improve skin conditions  

Credits: Kosal Ley on Unsplash.com
Edited By:
Raja Sivamani , MD, MS, AP

https://www.dermveda.com/articles/the-use-of-yoga-within-dermatologyMediation is the intentional awareness of the present moment and a tool used in the practice of mindfulness. We often discuss the bountiful benefits of regular meditation and/or mindfulness. Meditation can reduce stress, promote overall well being, and help with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.[1] A renowned mindfulness guru named Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered a mindfulness-based program to reduce stress in the 1970s, which evolved into Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[2] Today, healthcare professionals use Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) worldwide for a variety of medical conditions. As more scientific evidence reveals the mounting benefits of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the bridge between meditation, biology, and neuroscience is growing stronger. There are dozens of different mindfulness-based activities to best fit your preference and lifestyle, including meditation, yoga, breathing, and many others. 

Researchers have explored how mindfulness can be a beneficial practice in people with skin diseases. Many skin diseases can cause insecurity and distress regarding appearance and pain, often leading to high levels of stress and anxiety. Mindfulness techniques have shown promising results in reducing stress in patients with skin diseases.[3]


Meditation Can Reduce Inflammation

Recent scientific studies have demonstrated the use of regular Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques to decrease inflammation. Psychological stress is a powerful trigger of inflammation, and people suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases often turn to stress reduction techniques to find relief.[4]

How Does This Work?

The brain responds to external stimuli, such as stressful events or trauma, by modulating and coordinating the immune system in a way to effectively respond. Another response involved in the stress pathway is the release of a hormone from the adrenal glands called cortisol. One study compared the stress response and salivary cortisol levels between experienced meditators (over 9,000 lifetime hours of meditation) and non-meditators after inducing stress.[5] The experienced meditators had a statistically significant lower level of cortisol than the non-meditators.  

A mindfulness-based movement program (including Yoga practice) was implemented in study participants for 8 weeks, with results showing a trend towards lower cortisol in those who practiced mindfulness-based movement compared to those who did not. There was also a significant difference in other factors related to stress.[6] One study found that yoga-based mindfulness practice reduced blood markers of inflammation and stress, including interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a) and cortisol, within 10 days in people with chronic diseases.[7] The role of IL-6 in skin inflammation is uncertain, but this study gives another example of the healing power of yoga to reduce inflammatory markers. In a separate study, 186 university staff members were identified who had high levels of an inflammatory blood marker called “C-reactive protein” or “CRP.” These participants engaged in 2 months of either Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or a general lifestyle education program and inflammatory markers were measured after the 2 months. It turned out that participants who engaged in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) had lower CRP levels.[8] Although CRP is a marker of inflammation within blood vessels; it is not known specifically how it relates to skin health.


Stress-Induced Inflammation and Skin

The skin is an example of one of the outermost lines of defense against invasion and trauma, and the immune system offers key protection against invasions such as microbial pathogens. In addition, emotional and stress-related inflammation is highly visible on the skin and can contribute to inflammatory skin diseases. The skin has many nerves that form a vital network and it seems that this network can be modulated by the brain. In fact, every square inch of skin carries approximately 500 nerve endings that connect with the central nervous system![9]

Psychological distress induces sensory nerves to release inflammatory molecules (ex – Substance P), which act in conjunction with norepinephrine (adrenaline) on nearby immune cells and blood vessels to provoke a state of inflammation.[10] Stress-evoked worsening of symptoms has been documented in many skin diseases, including psoriasis, acne, atopic dermatitis, and alopecia.[11-13]  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) may be an opportunity to alleviate skin diseases and overall well-being.

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