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Religion and brain atrophy linked

Health World Events

Religion and brain atrophy linked

Jorge Hernandez June 28, 2011

What does religion, age and damages to the brain have to do with one another?

A new study from Duke is making an argument for the links between "born-again" religions in the Protestant and Catholic faiths, and the decrease in size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

"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," said Amy Owen, the lead author and a research associate at Duke University.

The research group provided a press release detailing their research and findings, which are published in the well-respected journal PLoS ONE.

There are other interpretations for the possible causes of brain atrophy. For example, anything stressful or uncomfortable can lead to the wearing away of certain parts of the brain. Interpreting a new experience as being outside of what one is used to can be a stressful experience in itself. Much more research must be done to provide substantial claims about certain religions and their effects on health, but this new study certainly shows an interesting breakthrough in a new area of research.

The researchers at Duke did not specifically study age, the size of participants' brains and depression as factors. Such things could be included in future studies.

More than 260 people were included in the study, and MRI scans were taken over a period of two to eight years. Overall, those who said that they were "born-again" Catholics or Protestants had a higher rate of brain atrophy, as measured in their hippocampus.

Much research is currently being undertaken to study memory, hippocampal activity, as well as aging and the brain in general. In part, these studies may be an effort to accommodate and learn more about and accommodate the aging populations of many Western nations.