The Effect of Qigong Meditation on Serum Cortisol, BDNF, and Cognitive Function: A Pilot Study
Travis Whitneya, †
National University of Natural Medicine, Helfgott Research Institute, 2220 SW 1st Ave, Portland, OR 97201, USA; Both authors contributed equally to the development of the manuscript and are listed as co-first author.
Blake O. Langleya, †
Nozomi Gonzaleza
Douglas Hanesa
Heather Zwickeya
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Keywords

Meditation
Cortisol
BDNF
Qigong
Cognition
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Abstract

Background: Mind–body practices have a variety of health implications, including inflammatory modulation, cognitive improvement, and impact on neurofunction. Some of these effects have been demonstrated through rapidly developing technology and their impact on circulating blood levels of hormones and other molecules. As neurotrophic factors like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and hormones such as cortisol have been shown to play a role in cognitive function, this pilot study assessed the influence of a mind–body intervention, Qigong, on circulating levels in participants.

Methods: Participants were prospectively enrolled to perform three separate cognitive assessments before and after a 30-minute, self-guided Qigong meditation developed from historical literature. Each participant was assigned to one of two groups according to their level of experience with meditation. Circulating levels of BDNF and cortisol were analyzed before and after the intervention. Group-level mean changes in BDNF and cortisol, as well as mean change in cognitive assessment score, were compared between groups using t-tests.

Results: Fourteen participants were enrolled with equal allocation to the two groups. Though BDNF increased in inexperienced meditators and decreased in experienced meditators after Qigong, there were no differences in the mean change between groups. Similarly, no differences were noted in cortisol between groups; however, there was a significant reduction in all participants after Qigong (n=14, P=0.001). No significant difference in cognitive assessment was noted between groups after Qigong compared to baseline.

Conclusion: This pilot study provides preliminary data to suggest circulating levels of cortisol may respond to Qigong meditation. While we were able to indirectly measure cognitive function and directly measure circulating levels of BDNF, the small sample size in this study did not allow us to determine the relationship with Qigong. Larger studies are needed to expand on these findings.

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