The Chemistry of Meditation

Introduction

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Meditation is a religious practice which began by Buddhists and spread to many different cultures as it was passed along the Silk Road. Buddhists used mediation as a means to reach Enlightenment or “Nirvana”. Meditating is the act of focusing one's attention on a single object or idea. These objects or ideas could be one's breathing, a line of words or sounds known as a “mantra”, or even just silence.

I chose meditation because as a high stress honors student tackling my junior year in high school, I use meditation as a stress reliever. Little did I know that mediation has multitudes of benefits I had not even thought of. Many of these benefits result from hormones that are released or reduced during meditation including Serotonin, Cortisol, DHEA, GABA, Endorphins, Growth Hormone, and Melatonin.

Now I’ve found new ways that meditation has impacted my life.  I meditate to improve my mood, release endorphins, increase my lifespan, relax me, improve my health, and achieve restful sleep. Meditation affects my life by improving my overall outlook on life. I encourage everyone to meditate too.


Composition of ...

  • Serotonin hormone = C10H12N2O

  • Cortisol hormone = C21H30O5

  • DHEA hormone = C19H28O2

  • GABA hormone = C4H9NO2

  • Growth Hormone = C63H104N16O17S

  • Melatonin = C13H16N2O2


Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

  • Cortisol hormone = C21H30O5

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced in the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney.  It’s produced from cholesterol.  When the body becomes stressed, it produces Cortisol and adrenaline.  These two hormones are beneficial in small doses, but when people are routinely stressed, they produce too much Cortisol and it takes a toll on them.  Cortisol is a major age-accelerating hormone, so the less Cortisol, the better.

  • DHEA hormone = C19H28O2

DHEA is a hormone that increases lifespan.  Scientists call it the “Longevity Molecule” because DHEA levels are directly related to time left to live.  DHEA is produced in the adrenal glands near the kidney.  It is made naturally in the body, but also can be made medicinally in a lab from wild yam (a vine) and soy (a bean).  DHEA leads to the production of androgens and estrogens (male and female hormones).  It helps slow aging, improve thinking skills in older people, and increase muscle mass, strength, and energy.  In the medicinal form, DHEA is used to treat depression, obesity, hormonal disorders, HIV, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's disease.  It is also used to help prevent heart disease, breast cancer, and diabetes, and also to help stop HIV from turning into AIDS.

Chemistry's Role

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years by Buddhists.  Now, non-Buddhists practice meditation widely for many reasons including the benefits from hormones that are released during meditation.  For example, studies at Princeton and the University of Montreal show that Serotonin and Endorphins are released during mediation, creating a sense of happiness.  


DHEA counteracts stress and increases lifespan.  Doctor Giampapa M.D., a former President of the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine, discovered meditators have 43.77% more DHEA than people who don’t meditate.  A study at UC Davis says Cortisol production is reduced when one meditates, which helps slow aging.  


GABA is released during meditation and will help calm people down.  In fact, Boston University School of Medicine found GABA levels increase 27% after only 60 minutes of meditation.  


Melatonin levels are boosted by an average of 98% in meditators.  This helps meditators achieve a restful sleep.  


The Growth Hormone is released during Delta.  Delta is a brainwave frequency found during the deepest stage of sleep and meditation  Therefore, during meditation, the Growth Hormone is released which will help meditators stay young and healthy.  

These hormones are chemicals released in one’s brain that are very important to one’s health. In fact, they are so important that people take some of these chemicals medicinally to help treat depression, obesity, hormonal disorders, HIV, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and many more. Therefore, meditation benefits meditators greatly through the chemicals that are released during and after meditation.


Background Research

The word meditation is derived from the latin word meditatio which means “to think, contemplate, devise, ponder.”  Meditation is a religious practice which began by Buddhists, who used it as a means to reach Enlightenment or “Nirvana”.  It spread to many different cultures as it was passed along the Silk Road.  Now it is practiced for many religious and nonreligious reasons.  Meditating is the act of focusing one's attention on a single object or idea. These objects or ideas could be one's breathing, a line of words or sounds known as a “mantra”, or even just the silence.  Hormones that are released or reduced during meditation include Serotonin, Cortisol, DHEA, GABA, Growth Hormone, and Melatonin.  Modern instruments such as MRI and EEG have been used to discover the changing hormone levels during meditation.

Resources

http://eocinstitute.org/meditation/dhea_gaba_cortisol_hgh_melatonin_serotonin_endorphins/

Serotonin & Endorphins and Happiness

Cortisol and Stress

DHEA and Longevity

GABA and Calm

Growth Hormone and Great Health

Melatonin and Restful sleep


http://www.chemspider.com/Chemical-Structure.5551.html

Chemical structures of Cortisol, DHEA, and GABA


http://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/896

Chemical structures of Growth Hormone and Melatonin


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_meditation

Background on the culture of Meditation


http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/

Sums up the benefits of Meditation

Increased concentration, increased energy, decreases anxiety, decreases addiction, slows aging, etc.


https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/use-your-mind-change-your-brain/201305/is-your-brain-meditation

Areas of brain affected during Meditation


https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/331.html & http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/dhea/background/hrb-20059173

Information on DHEA


https://www.adrenalfatigue.org/cortisol-adrenal-function & https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cortisol

Information on Cortisol


About the Author
Claire is a junior at Billings Senior High School.  She is involved in Cross Country, Track and Field, Philharmonic Orchestra, Senior Advocates, Platinum Program, interning in the Billings Symphony, and STEM Society. In her spare time, she enjoys playing with her dog Molly, hanging out with friends, hiking, fishing, swimming, playing her violin, and running.  She hopes to pursue a degree in music or medicine and move to the west coast.
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