Transcendental Meditation: Altering Biochemistry

TM: Altering Biochemistry

Research shows that TM practice alters biochemistry. This fact has implications for everyone who practices TM. Some biochemical changes may be beneficial. For example, changes that accompany a "relaxation response" may have a positive effect on some individuals; but are contraindicated for others. (See abstract below: "Relaxation-induced anxiety: mechanism and theoretical implications." Heide & Borkovec)

For TM-Sidhi Program practitioners, who may spend four hours per day in meditation practices; and for TM "residence course" participants who perform "rounding", which intentionally increases their time spent in meditation practices, the intensifying of the effects has demonstrated harmful results. (See
Personal Stories and Research Demonstrating Harmful Effects from TM. )

Of these biochemical changes, the implications for the increase in brain neurotransmitter, serotonin, are significant and wide-ranging in their potential negative consequences. (See
TM & Serotonin: Model of Effects. )

Here are some of the biochemical alterations (abstracts below):
  • Increase in brain neurotransmitter, serotonin

  • Change in secretion and release of several pituitary hormones "similar to the effects of synthetic anxiolytic and tranquilizing agents such as benzodiazepines"

  • Increased AVP secretion

  • Loss of normal diurnal rhythm for the hormones ACTH and beta-endorphin

  • Increased phenylalanine

  • An increase of carbon dioxide

  Serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine metabolites in transcendental meditation-technique. Bujatti M, Riederer P J: Neural Transm 1976;39(3):257-67

The highly significant increase of 5-HIAA (5-hydroxyindole-3-acetic acid) in Transcendental Meditation technique suggests systemic serotonin as "rest and fulfillment hormone" of deactivation-relaxation...

  Serum hormonal concentrations following transcendental meditation--potential role of gamma aminobutyric acid. Elias AN, Wilson AF Department of Medicine, University of California Medical Center, Irvine, Orange, USA: Med Hypotheses 1995 Apr;44(4):287-91

Transcendental mediation (TM) is a stylized form of physical and mental relaxation which is associated with changes in the secretion and release of several pituitary hormones. The hormonal changes induced by TM mimic the effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). It is hypothesized that TM produces changes in pituitary hormone secretion by enhancing hypothalamic GABAergic tone, and its anxiolytic effects by promoting GABAergic tone in specific areas of the brain. This mechanism is similar to the effects of synthetic anxiolytic and tranquilizing agents such as benzodiazepines that bind to components of the GABA-A (GABAA) receptor. TM, therefore, may produce relaxation by enhancing the effects of an endogenous neurotransmitter analogous to the effects of endorphins in runners who reportedly experience a 'runner's high'.

  Hormonal control in a state of decreased activation: potentiation of arginine vasopressin secretion. O'Halloran JP, Jevning R, Wilson AF, Skowsky R, Walsh RN, Alexander C: Physiol Behav 1985 Oct;35(4):591-5

Behaviorally induced stress is associated with increased arginine vasopressin (AVP) secretion. In this report we describe a phasic conditioned response of AVP secretion yielding 2.6-7.1 times normal plasma concentration of this hormone in association with a physiological state of decreased activation, that associated with the mental technique of "transcendental meditation" (TM) in long-term practitioners (6-8 years of regular elicitation). Such a very large phasic response of AVP was previously unknown in the normal physiology of AVP.

  ACTH and beta-endorphin in transcendental meditation. Infante JR, Peran F, Martinez M, Roldan A, Poyatos R, Ruiz C, Samaniego F, Garrido F Clinical Analysis and Immunology Service, Virgen de las Nieves Hospital, Granada, Spain: Physiol Behav 1998 Jun 1;64(3):311-5

We have evaluated the effect of Transcendental Meditation (TM) on the hypothalamo-hypophyseal-adrenal axis diurnal rhythms through the determination of hormone levels. Blood samples were taken at 0900 hours. and at 2000 hours. These samples were taken from 18 healthy volunteers who regularly practice TM and from nine healthy non-meditators. Cortisol, beta-endorphin, and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) were measured at both hours. TM practitioners showed no diurnal rhythm for ACTH and for beta-endorphin (ACTH, pg/mL, mean +/- SE; 13.8+/-1.2 - 12.1+/-1.5/beta-endorphin, pg/mL; 14.4+/-1.5 - 17.2+/-1.9, at 0900 hours and 2000 hours, respectively), in contrast to control subjects, who showed normal diurnal rhythm for these hormones and for cortisol (ACTH, pg/mL; 19.4+/-1.9 - 11.9+/-2.2/beta-endorphin, pg/mL; 25.4+/-1.7 - 17.7+/-1.1/Cortisol, ng/mL; 201.4+/-13.2 - 71.3+/-6.5, at 0900-2000 hours, respectively, p < 0.01 in the three cases). Practitioners of TM with similar anxiety levels to those of the control group showed a different pattern in the daytime secretion of pituitary hormones. TM thus appears to have a significant effect on the neuroendocrine axis. Because cortisol levels had a normal pattern in the TM group, these results may be due to a change in feedback sensitivity caused by this mental technique.

  Behavioral alteration of plasma phenylalanine concentration. Jevning R, Pirkle HC, Wilson AF: Physiol Behav 1977 Nov;19(5):611-4

The concentration of 13 neutral and acidic plasma amino acids was measured before, during and after either 40 min of control relaxation or 40 min of the process known as transcendental meditation (TM). An electro-oculogram, electroencephalogram, and electromyogram were simultaneously monitored in these subjects. Increased phenylalanine concentration was noted during TM practice with no change during control relaxation; no difference between the groups of total time slept or sleep stage percent was observed. The stability of phenylalanine concentration in controls and lack of correlation of increased phenylalanine with sleep in the long-term practitioners seem to suggest a relationship of the phenylalanine increase to TM practice.

  Meditation and somatic arousal reduction. Holmes, David S: American Psychologist, January 1984, pp1-10. Ensuing discussion follows in four more issues: June 1985, pp717-731; June 1986, pp712-713; September 1986, pp1007-1009; September 1987, pp879-881.

... Meditating subjects were found to have higher levels of phenylalanine that resting subjects, a finding which reflects high arousal in meditators.

  Relaxation-induced anxiety: mechanism and theoretical implications. Heide, Frederick J. and Borkovec, T. D. Behavioral Research Therapy, 1984, pp1-12.

  Relaxation-induced anxiety enhancement due to relaxation training. Heide, Frederick J. and T.D. Borkovec. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1983, p171.

These two papers by Heide and Borkovec disclose that 54 percent of anxiety-prone subjects tested experienced increased anxiety during TM-like mantra meditation.

  Metabolic Rate, Respiratory Exchange Ratio and Apneas During [TM] Meditation. John Kesterson and Noah F. Clinch. The American Journal of Physiology, March 1989, R637.

A careful, in-depth investigation into the effects of TM practice on respiration and metabolism, revealing that TM produces no deeper state of rest than from just sitting with eyes closed, even in advanced practitioners, and that the TM practice does not produce a hypometabolic state as claimed by MIU's Robert Keith Wallace.

They also discovered a decrease in respiratory exchange ratio in meditators during TM not observed in controls (i.e., an increase of carbon dioxide). Although this research was conducted at MIU, Kesterson and Clinch maintained their objectivity. Unlike most work by TM movement research, this particular study was published in a major journal.