(NaturalNews) The things you think about and dwell on throughout your day have a direct effect on your stress levels, which regulate how much cortisol, or stress hormone, is produced in your body. And new research published in the journal Health Psychology has found that meditation, and particularly mindfulness thinking, can help lower stress and cortisol levels, which in turn can help you lose excess weight and avoid developing "cortisol belly."
Researchers from the University of California, Davis have been working on a long-term study known as The Shamatha Project that seeks to ascertain how meditation practices influence brain activity and mental health. The Shamatha Project is said to be the most comprehensive study on meditation to date, having thus far made a number of fascinating discoveries about the ways we think and feel can be modulated through meditation.
As far as stress and cortisol production are concerned, a team of researchers led by Clifford Saron, an associate research professor at UC Davis, found that cortisol levels rise and fall in direct correlation with stress levels. And when people engage in meditation practices like mindfulness of breathing, for instance, or observing their own mental states and nature of consciousness, both their stress and cortisol levels decrease, which leads to greater feelings of joy, kindness, compassion, and empathy for others.
"This is the first study to show a direct relation between resting cortisol and scores on any type of mindfulness scale," says Tonya Jacobs, one of the lead authors of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Mind and Brain at UC Davis. "The more a person reported directing [his] cognitive resources to immediate sensory experience and the task at hand, the lower [his] resting cortisol."
Dwelling on the past, future instead of living in the present can have serious health consequences
On the flip side, people who dwell on painful memories they have from the past, or who develop anxiety about their future, typically have higher stress levels, and thus higher cortisol levels. Long-term release of cortisol in response to stress can lead to a condition known as adrenal fatigue, which is when the adrenal gland is no longer able to properly produce and release hormones. The health consequences of adrenal fatigue include lowered immune function, hypertension, high blood sugar, reduced libido, and bone loss, among many other symptoms.
"The idea that we can train our minds in a way that fosters healthy mental habits and that these habits may be reflected in mind-body relations is not new; it's been around for thousands of years across various cultures and ideologies" adds Jacobs. "However, this idea is just beginning to be integrated into Western medicine as objective evidence accumulates. Hopefully, studies like this one will contribute to that effort."