In the News: Spiritual Retreats Change Feel-Good Chemical Systems in the Brain

Andrew Newberg, M.D., Director of Research in the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health conducted a study that suggests retreats can alter the brain’s feel-good chemical systems, dopamine and serotonin.

As reported by Bustle and Science Magazine, among other news media, Dr. Newberg and his team scanned the brains of participants before and after a seven-day spiritual retreat. The study included 14 Christians ranging in age from 24 to 76. The group spent seven days in prayer and quiet contemplation.

Dr. Newberg stated “Our study showed significant changes in dopamine and serotonin transporters after the seven-day retreat, which could help prime participants for the spiritual experiences that they reported.”

The post-retreat scans revealed decreases in dopamine and serotonin transporters binding, which could allow more neurotransmitters to be available in the brain.

“In some ways our study raises more questions than it answers,” Dr. Newberg commented. “Our team is curious about which aspects of the retreat caused the changes in the neurotransmitter systems and if different retreats would produce different results. Hopefully, future studies can answer these questions.”

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