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Religious, spiritual people found to have 'thicker' brains to protect them from depression

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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
1/2/2014 (5 years ago)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)

Study suggests that being religious can enhance the brain's resilience against mental stress

A recent study now suggests that believers or those with a spiritual side have "thicker" sections of brain tissue than other people. Scientists say that while religion is largely a matter of the heart, it seems the shape of our brains could also have a role to play.

People at a higher risk of depression also had thinning cortices, compared to those with lower depression risk.

People at a higher risk of depression also had thinning cortices, compared to those with lower depression risk.

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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
1/2/2014 (5 years ago)

Published in Health

Keywords: religion, depression, spirituality, study


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Researchers think that the thickening could could help ward off depression.

"Our beliefs and our moods are reflected in our brain and with new imaging techniques we can begin to see this," Dr. Myrna Weissman, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University says. "The brain is an extraordinary organ. It not only controls, but is controlled by our moods."

It has to be noted that the study doesn't imply that thicker brain regions cause people to become more religious or spiritual. Dr. Weissman and her colleagues says that this may hint that being religious can enhance the brain's resilience against depression in a physical way.

Researchers had previously found that people who said they were religious or spiritual were at lower risk of depression. People at a higher risk of depression also had thinning cortices, compared to those with lower depression risk.

Researchers twice asked 103 adults between the ages of 18 and 54 how important religion or spirituality was to them and how often they attended religious services over a five year period for the most recent study. The participants' brains were also imaged once to see how thick their cortices were. All the participants were the children or grandchildren of people who participated in an earlier study about depression.

Some of the test subjects had a family history of depression, and so were considered high risk for similar disorders. Others with no history served as a comparison group.

Interestingly, the importance of religion or spirituality to an individual - but not church attendance - was tied to having a thicker cortex. The link was strongest among those at high risk of depression.

"What we're doing now is looking at the stability of it," Weissman, who is also chief of the Clinical-Genetic Epidemiology Department at New York State Psychiatric Institute, said.

Dr. Dan Blazer, the Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, said the study remains in the exploratory stages.

"I think this tells us it's an area to look at," Blazer said. "It's an area of interest but we have to be careful."

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