Transcendental Meditation and Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Functioning: A Pilot, Randomized Controlled Trial with Young Adults.

Author: Klimes-Dougan B1, Chong LS2, Samikoglu A2, Thai M1, Amatya P2, Cullen KR2, Lim KO2
1a Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts , Minneapolis , United States.
2b Department of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota Medical School Twin Cities , Minneapolis , United States.
Conference/Journal: Stress.
Date published: 2019 Aug 16
Other: Volume ID: 1-33 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1080/10253890.2019.1656714. [Epub ahead of print] , Word Count: 280

Transcendental Meditation (TM) is effective in alleviating stress and anxiety and promoting well-being. While the underlying biological mechanisms of TM are not yet fully explored, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis represents an index providing important clues embodying the stress system cascade. In this pilot study, young adults were randomly assigned to TM training followed by eight weeks of meditation practice or a wait-list control condition. TM was conducted over eight weeks. Thirty-four young adult participants were randomized; 27 participants completed the HPA outcome assessments (41% male). To assess HPA axis functioning, salivary samples to assess cortisol awakening response (CAR) that were collected in the morning, both at baseline and at week-4. Salivary cortisol in the context of a social stressor using the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was collected at week-8. The results indicate that participants who were randomly assigned to TM had lower awakening salivary cortisol levels and a greater drop in CAR from baseline to week-4 than the control group. There were no significant differences in HPA axis functioning in the context of the TSST. Primary limitations of this randomized controlled trial were the small sample size, the use of a wait-list as opposed to an active control, and the limited scope of HPA axis assessments. The results of this pilot study provide tentative evidence that TM may impact biological stress system functioning and suggests that this may be a worthwhile avenue to continue to examine. It will also be useful to extend these findings to a broader array of meditative and mindful practices, particularly for those who are experiencing more distress.

KEYWORDS: Cortisol; Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR); Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis; Transcendental Meditation; Trier Social Stress Test; Young Adults

PMID: 31418329 DOI: 10.1080/10253890.2019.1656714