Scientific Research on Effect of Changing Hormone Levels?

Discussion in 'Science of Meditation' started by mindsheep, Aug 24, 2009.

  1. mindsheep

    mindsheep Member

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    I was just reading how brain entrainment can effect hormone levels in your body:
    http://www.project-meditation.org/c...cial-hormones-released-during-meditation.html

    I appreciate that if these certain hormones are released or reduced it has beneficial effects in normal circumstances (nothing to do with entrainment), such as your body naturally releasing more serotonin.

    Entrainment then induces this process and increases the good hormones, and decreases the bad hormones, thus making you feel better on many levels.

    However, how do we know the effect of doing this is safe. What solid scientific research is there on this. From what I've seen its still relatively conflicting, and since audio driven brain entrainment is relatively new we don't know its long term effects.

    For example. Cortisol has an important function in the immune system:
    The Purpose of Cortisol and Corticosterone

    Summed up:
    When you compare that to Project Meditation's description of Cortisol it is very different (and the skeptic may say biased):
    More of cortisol does cause stress and weaken the immune system, but it is there for a reason, to regulate your immune system. So how does messing with the bodies natural defense make you healthier?

    It seems comparable to drugs which increase certain hormones (or mimic them) but longer term have negative effects?

    Does anybody know of scientific studies for or against entrainment's effect on hormone levels?
     
  2. Ta-tsu-wa

    Ta-tsu-wa Member

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    Have you checked the references given yet?

    In the statement you link to on the PM site it contains several references:

    England Journal of Medicine (December 11, 1986) (Regarding the hormone DHEA)

    Reiter and Robinson (1995) (From their book, Melatonin, available on Amazon.com at: Amazon.com: Melatonin (9780553574845): Russel J. Reiter, Jo Robinson: Books)

    Dr. Amnon Brzezinski M.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) 1997, whose work was cited and reviewed by the above Reitner and Robinson, but a PDF dated January 16, 1997 of one of his papers summarizing his findings is available for anyone interested in seeing exactly what he wrote in his own words just by doing a quick Google search at: http://www.deborahburnett.com/images/uploads/MelatonininHumans.pdf

    I'm curious, since you're asking for references, if you've looked up those already provided and, if so, what did they indicate vis-a-vis' your question? Or have you performed any online searches of your own in order to reach any conclusions about the question you asked and, if so, were you successful in finding any relevant information? Perhaps others have similar questions and would benefit from the fruits of your research.

    In light of your assertion, "When you compare that to Project Meditation's description of Cortisol it is very different (and the skeptic may say biased)..." you might want to re-read the information provided on the PM link as it seems you may have misunderstood or perhaps just skimmed too quickly to have grasped what Michael's article actually says.

    For example, the PM article says, "DHEA acts as a buffer against stress-related hormones (such as cortisol), which is why as you get older and make less DHEA you become more susceptible to stress and disease." As is clear from this statement, Michael was not advocating the notion that stress hormones are all evil per se, and need to be abolished. He was very clearly and correctly setting forth the concept that the body, in its most efficient functioning state, employs various hormones (in this case DHEA) as well as other substances to arrive at a pharmacological homeostasis within the body. However, certain events, in this case, aging, decrease that natural buffer of DHEA production, leaving the body more susceptible to imbalances, in this case, to higher levels of cortisol than the body was designed to work with, resulting in increased incidence of stress-induced diseases. The article does not demonize cortisol, but points out that cortisol in unbalanced proportion creates problems. Referring to this as "biased" or out of step with any reputable research would, I think, a contention that is difficult if not impossible to support.

    Similarly, the PM article discusses the role of melatonin, correctly noting that shortages of adequate melatonin are linked to quite a number of serious health conditions including heart disease, cancer, neurological disorders, just to name a few. If you keep abreast of trends in modern disease you know poor sleep, insufficient sleep, and other sleep disorders are one of the most frequently reported problems among adults and increasinglly, among young people. As the article points out, again, quite correctly, most melatonin production occurs primarily at night. Anything which disturbs proper and adequate sleep directly contributes to levels of melatonin production that are below those the body naturally needs for good health. The article is not suggesting that those with already optimized levels of melatonin are in need of ramping up melatonin production even more. It is referring to the majority of people who, because of stress, worries, anxieties, and other reasons, may not be getting proper rest and therefore do not have natural and normal levels of melatonin production. This can be aided by the practice of meditation which, in turn, is aided by the use of entrainment.

    In short, if you read carefully, the entire article has to do, not with jacking up hormones and other chemicals to excessive levels, but with seeking to restore the natural balance the body is designed to have. How any of this might be considered "biased" or in any way out of step with sound principles of health is unclear to me...unless, of course, you happen to be a rep for a pharmaceutical company in which case it is understandable that any effective, natural practice would be classified as potentially dangerous, and anything written in support of it vilified.

    Regarding entrainment specifically, take some time to read through the basic posts Michael has made; the golden thread section, and do a little searching and you'll quickly come to understand that entrainment does not force any condition on the body other than what the body naturally adopts all on its own. No "unnatural" brainwave states are or ever can be created through entrainment. If your DHEA production is already at its optimum level, for example, just using entrainment and/or meditation is not going to cause your body to suddenly go wild at night and overproduce even more just because it can.

    Entrainment is not "forcing" the body to produce anything the way a drug does. What entrainment does is provide an environment in which brainwave patterns can arise just as they naturally arise anyway. If you listen to quiet, soothing music, for instance, you're boosting up your brain's natural level of Alpha brainwaves. No one would ever suggest that listening to relaxing music is somehow unsafe from a brainwave point of view. If you close your eyes you shut out most stimulation to the optical nerve at the back of the eye which immediately elevates your production of Alpha brainwaves. But no one would ever suggest that closing one's eyes is somehow dangerous because it fosters an increase in slower brainwaves.

    Natural means of promoting slower brainwave states force nothing on the human organism. They simply offer it an atmosphere in which it can do what it was designed to do in a more efficient manner.

    This is in stark contrast to your example of taking drugs, which are not natural. Any pharmaceutical is a selective, highly specific chemical, denatured of any of the other chemicals that come synergistically bound to it when that substance exists in natural, plant form. Drugs are frequently administered in ways that are not natural. For example, you can swallow a Valium and feel more relaxed, or you can inhale the fragrance of lavender and also feel relaxed. In the case of the valium you're taking in an artificial substance into the body that is not intended to be there in the first place, and you're doing it through the digestive system that was never designed to ingest and process that chemical. In contrast, by inhaling the lavender fragrance you're using a natural substance that the body has evolved to process perfectly well, and you're taking it into your body in the way the body was designed to process fragrances.

    Entrainment is a phenomenon that is natural. We do it all the time. The heartbeats of mother and unborn child tend to synchronize for example, albeit at different rates, but at harmonic multiples of each other. When we walk with another person our gaits tend to end up very synchronzied. We often adopt very similar rates of breathing. The menstrual cycles of women living in the same household often fall into synch with each other. We are creatures of entrainment. Our bodies were designed to process it. Even using entrainment to affect our state of mind is not new. This is why people in my culture dance and use drums as these rhythms entrain the group into a more harmonious collection of people.

    If you're still wondering specifically about studies done to ascertain whether or not entrainment's effect on normalizing hormone production is somehow detrimental, by all means you should Google around a bit to satisfy that curiousity. I think you're unlikely to find much because entrainment is not forcing anything unnatural on the body and therefore it would make little sense to a researcher to examine something that is natural for an unnatural affect, but if you run across something, please post it. I would be interested in seeing what you come up with.
     
  3. mindsheep

    mindsheep Member

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    Thanks for making such a lengthy and informative post, its was an interesting read.

    I'd like to be specific in what I'm trying to question...

    It is one thing to say a hormone is beneficial for the body and list its positive effects. However, to then say that this infers scientific proof that increasing production of that hormone through brain entrainment is beneficial to the body is simply wrong.

    When trying to look at something scientifically it is important to step back and not create links, causitive correlations and proof that have not been scientifically tested. They are certainly areas for research, but not fact.

    I'm certainly not trying to disprove the positive effect of meditation or entrainment, but just trying to separate scientific truth, scientific evidence, informed assumptions, and leaps of faith.

    More so just to see where the scientific community is up to in their understanding of the effects of brain entrainment.

    For example:
    This study discusses how lower levels of melatonin is harmful. But it would be a leap of faith to assume from this that using brain entrainment or meditation to increase levels of melatonin is therefore beneficial in individuals that have normal melatonin levels. It would need to be scientifically tested.

    I only got introduced to the whole area a week ago, and am just looking at it out of general interest and trying it out. I have done some research in my spare time over the last week and so far from the studies I've looked at:
    - there is a lot of evidence on the positive effects of meditation on various aspects of the body. To the point my confidence in the benefits are very strong.
    - there is a lot of conclusive evidence that meditation and entrainment effects the structure of the brain and effects the production of hormones.
    - there is not a lot of research on the long term effects of brain entrainment on people's health. It is known it effects hormone production by effecting brain states, but it is not known how this effects health and how the increased/decreased levels of hormones effect the body and the long and short term effects of this. Most scientific discussion simply links existing studies on hormones with the similarity between brain entrainment and meditation, and from that assumes it is beneficial, but specific studies are lacking. Have you seen anything different?

    Where does it say that Cortisol in unbalanced proportions creates problems. From my reading it just says the more you have of it the more unhealthy you are:

    "Cortisol is a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands. According to Dr. Giampapa, cortisol is the major age-accelerating hormone. It also interferes with learning and memory and is, in general, bad news for your health and your well-being.

    Cortisol is the "stress hormone," and the more of it you have, the more stressed you feel...the more vulnerable to disease you are and the faster you age!
    "

    I don't think it is natural to play sounds at certain frequencies into your ear to induce brain wave states. Sure those states occur naturally, and you can enter them naturally, but that doesn't mean inducing them is natural.

    Even if we agreed they were natural it does not mean it is therefore scientifically proven it is healthy. Poisen Ivy is natural, but I don't eat it.

    Exercise is natural but I don't do it 24/7. There are thorough scientific studies that have determined what are the best exercise routines and the scientific community largely agrees on this. The scientific community also knows how exercise effects hormones and can say with good certainty the positive effects of exercise in the right amounts.

    I'm not aware of any such studies with brain entrainment which look at the length of entrainment, how regular, wave frequencies and have strong evidence to show the positive health effects both short term and long term, and show clearly the effect on hormone production. Be sure to point out any that do.

    Any more information on this, any scientific studies? I find this particularly interesting.

    - But closing your eyes is 100% natural.
    - Listening to soothing music is less natural, but has been with us for a long time and its effects are no where near as close to what entrainment does.
    - Correct me if I am wrong but brain entrainment on a daily basis is not something anyone is ever going to experience, or has experienced in human history, in a natural way. It is a new technology we have started trying in the last few decades.

    Under that logic nobody would have researched the effects of meditation either, but that has more thorough research behind it showing the effects on people both short and longterm. Scientific studies showed the effects to be positive.

    Entrainment does not seem to have the same research behind it, yet is potentially more powerful and easily accessible than traditional meditation.

    So far I haven't come across any information on how long and how often to do entrainment, the frequency to use and how that positively effects the body (long term or short term) that is based on scientific tests.

    Once again I'm not trying to discredit entrainment or meditation. I'm fascinated by it and just want to understand what we do know for fact, what we don't know, and what we think is likely true but need further research on it.
     
  4. GilesC

    GilesC Member

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    The issue is perhaps that science (and I'm a fan of science, don't get me wrong), does not yet have the tools or understanding of human biology, psychology etc. to develop tests that could accurately measure the plethora of factors to be taken account of when using such techniques as meditation and brainwave entrainment, especially over long terms such as years or decades.

    How could science run true double-blind tests on sample people and take account of all the other factors in those people's lives over such a long period of time, including genetic make up, environmental and societal issues, previous exposure to... well... anything, prior to the research etc. etc.

    In such a long term practice such as meditation, brainwave entrainment, complementary health etc. it is generally only possible to rely on observation of cases from the past. e.g. if people keep on trying to do this thing and it seems they're all dying young, it's probably not a good thing to do. Conversely, if they're all doing this thing and seeming to live to a ripe old age, then there's a good change that something about it is a factor in that.

    I would love for science to be able to provide some means of researching and measuring all the factors, rather than just brainwave activity from EEG's etc. but even if they had the tools to measure them, who is going to have enough understanding of how each measurement correlates with the other measurements and what the resultant figures might actually mean. It's all fine measuring things in isolation and we can get some insight into some things, but I can't see that it's feasibly possible to perform full factor measuring and interpretation to conclusively scientifically prove any of it.

    At the end of the day, everyone has to have faith of some sort. Even science. Without faith, people (scientists included) wouldn't take that step into the unknown to see what happens and thus discover things new.

    Research and understanding is great. Putting it into practice and finding out for yourself is even greater. ;)

    Hugs

    Giles
     
  5. mindsheep

    mindsheep Member

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    Thanks Giles, I pretty much agree with that.

    I do however still think current science is able to provide some insight into the effects of entrainment, since such studies have been done for meditation.

    It would not be far-fetched for example to run a test on a group of people who had not previously meditated, and provide half the group with binaural beats, and the other half just music, but not inform either group what they have. Then simply measure the level of hormones at set intervals, as well as other health & happiness indicators. The longer the study the more it would reveal.

    In fact I have found a few studies of this nature:
    Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. - The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine - 13(1):25
    "Binaural beat technology may exhibit positive effect on self-reported psychologic measures, especially anxiety. Further research is warranted to explore the effects on anxiety using a larger, randomized and controlled trial."

    Anaesthesia - Abstract: Volume 60(9) September 2005 p 874-877 A prospective, randomised, controlled study examining binaural beat audio and pre-operative anxiety in patients undergoing general anaesthesia for day case surgery *.
    "Binaural beat audio has the potential to decrease acute pre-operative anxiety significantly."

    http://www.sics.se/prosopopeia/style/pdf/binauralbeats.pdf
    "Results suggest that the presentation of binaural auditory beats can affect psychomotor
    performance and mood. This technology may have applications for the control of attention and arousal and the enhancement of human
    performance.
    "

    So initial tests show positive signs, but long term data is lacking.
     
  6. Edwin

    Edwin Member

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    I am not that sure that brain entrainment has been around for that long... wasn't it first tested in the 80's ?
     
  7. GilesC

    GilesC Member

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  8. Edwin

    Edwin Member

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    I stand corrected !

    Shows what I know :D
     
  9. mindsheep

    mindsheep Member

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  10. Itlandm

    Itlandm Member

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    Mindsheep,
    I can understand your frustration. I was in pretty much the same situation while considering the long-term use of another entrainment product, which admittedly relies a bit more on the brute force of entrainment rather than meditation as such. Despite passing itself off as a research institute, and having a sizable business, the developers of that product had remarkably little research in the scientific sense, and hardly any of it their own. I followed their links as well as hunting on Google for a couple weeks, but there was precious little to be found.

    In the end, for me it came down to what was credible. Of course, some texts are written to enhance the placebo effect (which, incidentally, is a good thing, despite its current reputation.) This is an everyday phenomenon: When I saw my doctor about my crippling wrist and arm pains after years of working with computers, he recommended that I exercise for an hour each day. He explained that this would increase the blood flow through the whole body, including my arm, and this would contribute to its healing. He completely neglected to mention that running often on hard surfaces without shock absorbing shoes can lead to permanent knee damage, or that biking can result in fatal damage from fall or collisions, swimming could lead to drowning etc. Because in that situation, piling up such possible side effects would serve to undermine my motivation, and in any case he was recommending only a moderate amount of exercise.

    I hope you see the analogy here. Before buying an exercise bike, I did not actually spend two weeks looking for studies of possible side effects of using those contraptions for several decades. (Actually, there ARE side effects, especially for males, if you use any bike too much.) I knew that with my intended use, it was highly unlikely that the bad effects would be anywhere near the good ones. Of course, it would be highly welcome if the producer of the exercise bike had invested some of their profit in a broad and long clinical study of the long-term effects of using their product. They didn't, however, and so I used my reasoning capabilities. With brainwave entrainment, I had to gather some more information first, but in the end the decision was very similar.
     

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