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.
1. Black DS, Slavich GM. Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016;1373(1):13–24.
2. Gotink RA, Meijboom R, Vernooij MW, et al. 8-Week mindfulness based stress reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice: a systematic review. Brain Cogn. 2016;108:32–41.
3. Zagrebelsky M, Holz A, Dechant G, et al. The p75 neurotrophin receptor negatively modulates dendrite complexity and spine density in hippocampal neurons. J Neurosci. 2005;25(43):9989–99.
4. Jahnke R, Larkey L, Rogers C, et al. A comprehensive review of health benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi. Am J Health Promot. 2010;24(6):e1–25.
5. Noble EE, Billington CJ, Kotz CM, et al. The lighter side of BDNF. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011;300(5):R1053–69.
6. Olson AK, Eadie BD, Ernst C, Christie BR. Environmental enrichment and voluntary exercise massively increase neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus via dissociable pathways. Hippocampus. 2006;16(3):250–60.
7. Bosch M, Castro J, Saneyoshi T, et al. Structural and molecular remodeling of dendritic spine substructures during long-term potentiation. Neuron. 2014;82(2):444–59.
8. Chan KL, Tong KY, Yip SP. Relationship of serum brainderived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and health-related lifestyle in healthy human subjects. Neurosci Lett. 2008;447(2–3):124–8.
9. Kim JJ, Song EY, Kosten TA. Stress effects in the hippocampus: synaptic plasticity and memory. Stress. 2006;9(1):1–11.
10. Kang DH, Jo HJ, Jung WH, et al. The effect of meditation on brain structure: cortical thickness mapping and diffusion tensor imaging. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2013;8(1):27–33.
11. Cahn BR, Goodman MS, Peterson CT, et al. Yoga, meditation and mind-body health: increased BDNF, cortisol awakening response, and altered inflammatory marker expression after a 3-month yoga and meditation retreat. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017;11:315.
12. Gomutbutra P, Yingchankul N, Chattipakorn N, et al. The effect of mindfulness-based intervention on brainderived neurotrophic factor (BDNF): a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials. Front Psychol. 2020;11:2209.
13. Lupien SJ, de Leon M, de Santi S, et al. Cortisol levels during human aging predict hippocampal atrophy and memory deficits. Nat Neurosci. 1998;1(1):69–73.
14. Sapolsky RM, Krey LC, McEwen BS. The neuroendocrinology of stress and aging: the glucocorticoid cascade hypothesis. Endocr Rev. 1986;7(3):284–301.
15. McEwen BS, Sapolsky RM. Stress and cognitive function. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 1995;5(2):205–16.
16. Koncz A, Demetrovics Z, Takacs ZK. Meditation interventions efficiently reduce cortisol levels of atrisk samples: a meta-analysis. Health Psychol Rev. 2021;15(1):56–84.
17. Zickefoose S, Hux K, Brown J, Wulf K. Let the games begin: a preliminary study using attention process training-3 and Lumosity™ brain games to remediate attention deficits following traumatic brain injury. Brain Inj. 2013;27(6):707–16.
18. Goda A, Ohgi S, Kinpara K, et al. Changes in serum BDNF levels associated with moderate-intensity exercise in healthy young Japanese men. Springerplus. 2013;2:678.
19. Choi SW, Bhang S, Ahn JH. Diurnal variation and gender differences of plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor in healthy human subjects. Psychiatry Res. 2011;186(2–3):427–30.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.