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Are Religious Experiences Caused By Brain Atrophy?

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  • medit8ionsociety
    Being Born-Again Linked to More Brain Atrophy: Study WEDNESDAY, May 25 (HealthDay News) -- Older adults who say they ve had a life-changing religious
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 30, 2011
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      Being 'Born-Again' Linked to More Brain Atrophy: Study

      WEDNESDAY, May 25 (HealthDay News) -- Older
      adults who say they've had a life-changing
      religious experience are more likely to have
      a greater decrease in size of the hippocampus,
      the part of the brain critical to learning and
      memory, new research finds.

      According to the study, people who said they
      were a "born-again" Protestant or Catholic, or
      conversely, those who had no religious affiliation,
      had more hippocampal shrinkage (or "atrophy")
      compared to people who identified themselves as
      Protestants, but not born-again.

      The study is published online in PLoS ONE.

      As people age, a certain amount of brain atrophy
      is expected. Shrinkage of the hippocampus is also
      associated with depression, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

      In the study, researchers asked 268 people aged
      58 to 84 about their religious affiliation, spiritual
      practices and life-changing religious experiences.
      Over the course of two to eight years, changes to
      the hippocampus were monitored using MRI scans.

      The researchers suggested that stress over holding
      religious beliefs that fall outside of the mainstream
      may help explain the findings.

      "One interpretation of our finding -- that members
      of majority religious groups seem to have less atrophy
      compared with minority religious groups -- is that
      when you feel your beliefs and values are somewhat at
      odds with those of society as a whole, it may contribute
      to long-term stress that could have implications for
      the brain," Amy Owen, lead author of the study and
      a research associate at Duke University Medical Center,
      said in a Duke news release.

      The study authors also suggested that life-changing religious experiences could challenge a person's established religious beliefs, triggering stress.

      "Other studies have led us to think that whether a new
      experience you consider spiritual is interpreted as
      comforting or stressful may depend on whether or not
      it fits in with your existing religious beliefs and
      those of the people around you," David Hayward, research
      associate at Duke University Medical Center, added.
      "Especially for older adults, these unexpected new
      experiences may lead to doubts about long-held religious
      beliefs, or to disagreements with friends and family."

      The researchers noted other factors related to
      hippocampal atrophy, such as age, depression or
      brain size, as well as other religious factors such
      as prayer or meditation, could not explain the
      study's findings.

      More information

      The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders
      and Stroke provides details on brain atrophy.
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