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Your Brain & Spirituality

We are excited to share that ARPF Scientific Advisory Council Member, Andrew Newberg, MD published a fascinating article called Mind and God: The new science of neurotheology.

Neurotheology refers to studying the relationship between the brain and our religious and spiritual selves. The “neuro” side includes brain imaging, psychology, neurology, medicine, and even anthropology. And the “theology” side includes theology itself, but also various aspects related to religious beliefs, attitudes, practices, and experiences.

Our studies have shown that religion and spirituality are positively linked to good mental health. Now research aims to figure out how and why.

Newberg explains, “A growing number of studies have shown how spirituality and mental health are linked. Importantly, studies have shown that those who are religious and spiritual tend to have lower rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. This is true across the age spectrum with studies of adolescents showing that religious and spiritual pursuits are protective against mental health problems. And many adults cite religious and spiritual beliefs as important for coping with various life stressors.”

This reflects our 4th Pillar of Alzheimer’s Prevention®: Spiritual Fitness. Newberg explains that going to church or other social events that are part of a religious tradition can be beneficial because social support, in and of itself, is beneficial to mental health. Newberg adds, “The more people that we have in our social support network, the better we are at coping with various life stressors including problems with jobs, relationships, or health.”

Additional Aspects of Spiritual Fitness:

  • Socialization or being with like-minded people
  • Acceptance and forgiveness of yourself and others
  • Patience and allowing yourself to be in the moment
  • Compassion and empathy towards yourself and others
  • Purpose or meaning in life via self-discovery and building your legacy
  • Sense of spirituality, regardless of origin or religion, makes you happier
  • Volunteering or service without thought of self-reward is a very beneficial, life-affirming act

Furthermore, diet and nutrition are frequently overlooked when it comes to good mental health, even though research increasingly indicates they are essential as outlined as our 1st Pillar of Prevention. Many traditions ask individuals to follow certain dietary guidelines. For example, Hindus tend to have vegetarian diets, and most research to date shows that eating a more plant-based diet with a lot of low-inflammatory foods is good not only for your body but for your brain as well. Newberg is currently performing a study with patients who have chronic concussion symptoms to determine the effect of dietary improvements on overall brain function.

“Much of my research over the past 30 years has been to study the brain while people engage in different practices such as meditation or prayer. We have even observed brain changes associated with unique spiritual practices such as speaking in tongues or trance states. The brain effects related to these practices are quite remarkable and diverse. It should come as no surprise since these practices affect people on many different levels, such as the way people think, feel, and experience the world around them. Thus, we should expect to observe physiological differences in the parts of the brain involved with these practices,” Newberg added.

Meditation and prayer, and more specifically Kirtan Kriya, activate the frontal lobes as well as the language areas of the brain. Research demonstrates that this occurs not only while the practice is performed but over the long term as well. Our study of Kirtan Kriya meditation showed improvements of about 10 to 15 percent in cognition as well as reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression. These were associated with baseline changes to the brain’s frontal lobe functions, which regulate these cognitive processes and modulate emotional responses.

There are a growing number of clinical studies showing the value of spiritual practices to help people manage a variety of conditions including depression, anxiety, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, and seizure disorders. Developing a deeper sense of community, feelings of compassion, healthier dietary preferences, and a way to release stress can help your brain stay healthy and sharp.

To find out more information on Spiritual Fitness, Diet and Supplements, Kirtan Kriya, or AD prevention research, visit us at alzheimersprevention.org.

To read the full article, click here.

 

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