Contrary to what many may think, spirituality is one of man’s most important qualities. In this context, research has shown that spiritual beliefs influence brain function and influence the way we deal with reality.
Well, recent research has shown that spiritual beliefs are related to the thickness of the white matter at the brain level. This seems to act as a protective factor against depression. It is now known that depression has an important genetic component. In this sense, it has been shown that children whose parents suffer from depression suffer up to twice as often from this mood disorder.
However, it has been found that this is not always the case and that depression can also affect people who do not have a family history. Therefore, researchers suggest that there are other factors, such as how each person learns to interpret reality.
In this context, studies have shown that adults at high risk for depression, spiritual and religious beliefs can have a protective effect against this psychological problem. For example, in 2005, a team of researchers showed that religion cushions the symptoms of depression in people with health problems.
Similarly, in 2013, patients with depression were considered more responsive to treatment if they had a strong spiritual belief. Now a team of researchers has used neuroimaging techniques to study the effects of spiritual beliefs on brain development and their influence on depression.
To this end, 99 people with different family risk for depression were studied. Specifically, the researchers focused on the white matter of the brain; this tissue is part of the cerebral cortex and contains the circuits that neurons need to communicate with each other.
It has been observed that people with strong spiritual beliefs have had a greater amount of white matter in the bilateral parietal and occipital areas, leading to a low risk of depression.
Previous studies have shown that the loss of white matter in the brain is a biomarker for depression. In addition, in 2014 a team of researchers observed that spiritual beliefs were associated with a greater amount of brain-level white matter, implying a lower risk of developing this psychological disorder.
Now a new study supports these approaches. In particular, participants with high family risk for developing depression and with strong spiritual and religious beliefs showed similar amounts of white matter as people with low risk for depression.
In particular, it was found that spirituality is associated with thicker cerebral cortex in the parietal and occipital areas. This could serve as a protective mechanism against the development of depression.
However, further studies are needed to confirm these results. Nevertheless, these results are expected to inspire the development of therapeutic strategies to improve the accompaniment of people suffering from this important psychological disorder.
Reference: A diffusion tensor imaging study on microstructural changes in the brain associated with religion and spirituality in high risk depression families (2019). https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.1209
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