New York (USA) – Spiritual beliefs could protect the human brain from depression, according to a recent study based on earlier findings, as it shows a strange connection between religious beliefs and the density of so-called white matter in the brain.
Earlier studies ( 1 , 2 ) suggest that the tendency towards depression can be attributed to our genes to a certain degree: Studies show that the probability that a person will later suffer from depression can double or even quadruple if both parents themselves were already depressed. At the same time, however, the studies also show that even with genetic stress, not everyone actually develops depression and depression can develop in people who are not at all affected by their family. There must, therefore, be other factors to which – as the current study – may also include the religious-spiritual views of a person.
Already in 2005, a study showed that religion seems to act as a buffer against depression. In addition, another 2013 study showed that depressed patients with a firm belief in God achieved significantly better outcomes than others.
Using MRI-based neural imaging, researchers from Dongrong Xu’s Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University have now visually quantified the white matter of 99 subjects, each with different degrees of familial depression risk.
The white matter (Substantia alba) refers to those parts of the central nervous system, which consist mainly of pathways or nerve fibers and thus mainly contain nerve cell processes.These are contrasted with the so-called gray matter as those parts which mainly contain nerve cell bodies and consist for example of nuclei or core areas. The already macroscopically visible white color is caused by enveloping glial cells or the myelin sheaths of the nerve fibers.
Previous studies have shown that thinning this white matter can be a biomarker of depression in the brain. At the same time, a 2014 study showed that a religious or spiritual belief in people with denser cerebral cortex seems to be associated with different brain regions associated with depression.
The results of the recent study published in the journal Brain and Behavior (DOI: 10.1002 / brb3.1209 ) support these earlier observations, showing that the brains of people with an increased risk of familial depression but with intimate spiritual beliefs are much more likely to be Brains of people with a low risk same.
“We have discovered that belief in the importance of religion or spirituality is associated with a thicker cerebral cortex in bilateral parietal (parietal-lobe) and occipital (occipital) regions,” the researchers said, adding: “As we have shown before “Thinning this substance is a stable biomarker of depression risk, which is why we suspect that the thicker cerebral cortex may represent a kind of balancing protective mechanism in those with a more spiritual-religious belief.”
How and why an intimate faith should act as a protective mechanism, the authors of the study meanwhile cannot yet say. Thus, further investigations and replicating studies are necessary to support a direct connection between faith and the described neurophysiological mechanism that can be relied upon beyond the interesting comparative observations.