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The Psychobiological Effects of Participation in a One-Month Insight Meditation Retreat

The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government. Read our disclaimer for details. Identifier: NCT03056105
Recruitment Status : Completed
First Posted : February 17, 2017
Last Update Posted : May 30, 2017
University of California, San Francisco
University of Barcelona
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
University of California, Davis

Brief Summary:
The purpose of this study was to examine how participation in a 1 month intensive Insight (vipassana) Meditation retreat (a) affects biological markers of cellular aging, social affiliation, and inflammation, which are important for physical health, longevity, and behavior, and (b) to relate observed biological changes to baseline levels and changes in psychological traits, which may underlie improvements in personal adaptive functioning.

Condition or disease Intervention/treatment
Aging Other: Residential Insight Meditation Retreat

Detailed Description:
The investigators are specifically assessing the effects of retreat on telomere length and telomerase levels in participants' white blood cells, as well as plasma levels of interlukin-6 (IL-6), to assess how the retreat experience impacts these markers of cellular aging and inflammation. The hypotheses are that retreat participation will increase both telomere length and telomerase activity, but decrease IL-6 levels. The investigators will also assess the impact of retreat participation on oxytocin-a hormone involved in a number of physiological and behavioral processes, including affiliative bonds and stress responses-the hypothesis being that participation in the retreat will increase plasma oxytocin levels. The investigators will then explore how these and other biomarkers relate to psychological processes and personality traits, which may also be altered by participation in the meditation retreat.

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Study Type : Observational
Actual Enrollment : 66 participants
Observational Model: Case-Control
Time Perspective: Prospective
Official Title: The Psychobiological Effects of a One-Month Insight Meditation Retreat, a Sub-study of The Shamatha Project: A Longitudinal, Randomized Waitlist Control Study of Cognitive, Emotional, and Neural Effects of Intensive Meditation Training
Actual Study Start Date : February 3, 2013
Actual Primary Completion Date : February 4, 2014
Actual Study Completion Date : February 4, 2014

Group/Cohort Intervention/treatment
Participants registered for a one-month, residential Insight Meditation retreat held at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in either February or March, 2013
Other: Residential Insight Meditation Retreat
Retreats at Spirit Rock Meditation Center were led by teams of 6 experienced teachers. Participants practiced "noble silence"-refraining from eye contact as well as verbal and written communication-except during meetings with teachers. Teachers lead guided Insight meditation practices, as well as meditations on loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. The daily schedule consisted of sitting and walking meditation sessions (30-45 mins) totaling 8-10 hours/day, meals, and short work meditations (sweeping, dishes, etc.). Seated meditation was practiced as a group in a meditation hall with approximately 80 participants. Walking meditation took place in adjoining halls or on the grounds. Participants lived on-site during the retreat and were provided with a vegetarian diet.

Experienced meditators from the Spirit Rock Meditation Community

Primary Outcome Measures :
  1. Telomerase [ Time Frame: change from the start of retreat to three weeks into the retreat period ]
    an enzyme that repairs the shortening of telomeres that occurs during aging

  2. Telomere length [ Time Frame: change from the start of retreat to three weeks into the retreat period ]
    the repetitive sequence of DNA that serves as a protective cap to eukaryotic chromosomes, which protects from degradation and instability and is related to longevity

  3. Interleukin-6 [ Time Frame: change from the start of retreat to three weeks into the retreat period ]
    a primary measure of inflammation, which is influenced by psychological stress

  4. Oxytocin [ Time Frame: change from the start of retreat to three weeks into the retreat period ]
    an affiliative hormone associated with social bonding in both men and women, and which downregulates inflammatory cytokines

Secondary Outcome Measures :
  1. Arginine Vasopressin [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    a less commonly studied affiliative hormone also associated with close social bonds

  2. Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    a protein related to neuroplasticity, learning, and memory, which is decreased in depression

  3. pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1b, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, IL-12 (p70), IL-13, IFN-γ, TNF-α) [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    a family of proteins involved in generating and regulating the immune system

  4. State-Trait Anxiety Inventory [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    10 item scale designed to assess trait-anxiety (STAI; Spielberger et al., 1983)

  5. Lifestyle Profile II [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    Assesses health-promoting lifestyle factors (Walker et al., 1987)

  6. Experience in Close Relationships, short form [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    Assesses attachment anxiety (fear of rejection or abandonment) and avoidance (avoidance of intimacy and interdependence) (ECR-12: Lafontaine et al., 2015)

  7. Mysticism Scale [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    Assesses mystical experience and religious interpretation (M-Scale; Hood, 1975)

  8. Non-attachment Scale [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    Assesses non-attachment from a Buddhist perspective (NAS; Sahdra, Shaver & Brown, 2010)

  9. Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    Assess five dimensions of wisdom: 1) Experience, 2) Emotional Regulation, 3) Reminiscence and Reflectiveness, 4) Openness, 5) Humor (SAWS; Webster, 2003)

  10. Ego Resiliency Scale [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    Assesses the ability to adapt one's level of control temporarily up or down as circumstances dictate (EGO; Block & Kremen, 1996)

  11. Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    Assesses five facets of mindfulness: 1) Non-reactivity to Inner Experience, 2) Observing 3) Acting with Awareness, 4) Describing, and 5) Non-judging of Experience (FFMQ; Baer et al., 2006)

  12. Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    Assesses depressive symptomatology (CES-D; Radloff, 1977)

  13. Psychological Wellbeing Scale [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks apart ]
    Assess autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life, and self-acceptance (PWBS; Ryff, 1989)

  14. Three Dimensional Wisdom Scale [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks ]
    Assess three dimensions of wisdom: 1) Cognitive, 2) Reflective, and 3) Affective (3-DWS; Ardelt, 2003)

  15. Big Five Inventory [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks ]
    Assesses extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience, neuroticism (BFI; Goldberg, 1993)

  16. Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks ]
    Assesses non-acceptance to one's emotional responses, difficulty achieving goals, impulsiveness, lack of emotional awareness, access to emotion regulation strategies, emotional clarity (DERS; Gratz & Roemer, 2004)

Other Outcome Measures:
  1. Gene Expression of genes relating to inflammation and telomere regulation [ Time Frame: two measurements, three weeks ]
    PBMC RNA for exploratory gene expression studies

Biospecimen Retention:   Samples With DNA
whole blood, peripheral blood mononucleocytes, plasma, serum

Information from the National Library of Medicine

Choosing to participate in a study is an important personal decision. Talk with your doctor and family members or friends about deciding to join a study. To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contacts provided below. For general information, Learn About Clinical Studies.

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Ages Eligible for Study:   18 Years to 70 Years   (Adult, Older Adult)
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   Yes
Sampling Method:   Non-Probability Sample
Study Population
Healthy adults with meditation experience

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Previous meditation experience equivalent to two 5-10 day residential meditation retreats

Exclusion Criteria:

  • Disclosure of potentially contagious blood-borne illness (e.g., HIV, Hepatitis, etc.) or other illnesses that might interfere with telomere or telomerase measurement

Information from the National Library of Medicine

To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contact information provided by the sponsor.

Please refer to this study by its identifier (NCT number): NCT03056105

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United States, California
University of California, Davis
Davis, California, United States, 95616
Sponsors and Collaborators
University of California, Davis
University of California, San Francisco
University of Barcelona
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Principal Investigator: Clifford D Saron, PhD University of California, Davis
Publications automatically indexed to this study by Identifier (NCT Number):
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Responsible Party: University of California, Davis Identifier: NCT03056105    
Other Study ID Numbers: 230734
First Posted: February 17, 2017    Key Record Dates
Last Update Posted: May 30, 2017
Last Verified: May 2017
Individual Participant Data (IPD) Sharing Statement:
Plan to Share IPD: Undecided

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Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Drug Product: No
Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Device Product: No
Keywords provided by University of California, Davis:
Well-being, affiliation, inflammation