No one has found a drug that can cure Alzheimer’s disease yet, but some researchers have discovered a back-door approach that may reverse memory loss and hold the disease at bay.
A simple 12-minute spirituality practice has shown it could not only reverse memory loss in research trials, it may also improve cellular health, and boost patients’ moods and wellbeing.
It’s called Kirtan Kriya (KK) meditation, pronounced KEER-tun KREE-ya. And it is so simple, you can learn it’s four-tone chant and finger gestures in seconds and benefit for a lifetime.
The Brain Changes
Almost everyone who tries Kirtan Kriya seems to feel more relaxed after a session. But feelings aren’t the only proof it’s doing some good.
Neuroimaging has shown that KK meditation causes an increase in blood flow to parts of the brain that are important to AD. Images also show more gray matter after using KK.
In addition to these brain improvements, KK works at the cellular level. Telomere length increased in patients who used KK.
That is a significant effect because telomeres are protein chains that make end caps on your chromosomes. A longer length is associated with a healthier, biologically younger cell.
What The Research Says So Far
In one trial, researchers Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, and Andrew B. Newberg, MDasked a group of 25 volunteers to try Kirtan Kriya for 12 weeks. The volunteers were showing signs of age-related forgetfulness and already having difficulty with names and faces or carrying on everyday activities like keeping appointments and finding their belongings. [i]
Half the volunteers practiced KK once a week during a yoga class and at home on the other days. The other volunteers did brain training for an hour a week in class and brain exercises at home the other days.
The KK group showed more brain activity in brain scans and become less depressed and better at everyday coping.
The findings, which were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, are part of a new wellness movement called “spirituality fitness.”
Anyone who has dealt with AD in a loved one knows that the disease take a toll on caregivers. In another trial, KK showed it could help here as well.
In another trial, a group of 37 stressed caregivers who practiced KK increased their telomere length by 43%. That was much more than anyone expected to see. The control group, who did not meditate, had only 3.7% increase.
In another study, KK was linked to up-regulating (improving) 19 genes that are good for immune function. At the same time, it down-regulated (calmed) 49 genes associated with inflammation.
The tau tangles and beta amyloid deposits that show in the brains of people with AD result from chemicals involved in a runaway inflammation response. So slowing these reactions down protects the brain and may help prevent AD or slow it down.
Lifestyle Is Our Best Weapon
Drs. Khalsa and Newberg believe “spiritual fitness” can be a powerful approach to handling AD and even preventing it. This is a somewhat new way of framing the concept, but it has a pedigree.
Research on cognition and super-aging over the last two decades shows that lifestyle and attitudes may protect brain health. In five areas of the word known as “Blue Zones,” for instance, people live longer than usual. But they also stay active and mentally sharp well past age 90 and have much lower rates of AD.
The people who live in these zones have several things in common and that may be the reason. Their diets are strong in fruits and vegetables. Some eat a little meat, but not often, and others are vegetarian.
They also get plenty of movement and exercise in a normal day. Instead of going to the gym, long walks and gardening are common.
Blue-Zoners and Super-Agers also score high on spirituality. Some belong to a church, some not, but most practice some form of religion or spiritual belief.
Spirit and Practice
Kirtan Kriya hits the spiritual note. But it’s physical, too.
It may be especially effective because it sends signals to the brain through multiple channels.
When practicing KK, sound is involved. You hear the meditation. You produce sound and you can feel the hum. Your fingers are rich in nerve endings and, because you touch them repeatedly, you are constantly sending sensory signals to the brain at the same time.
But Drs. Khalsa and Newberg believe that it is the spirituality of the practice that gives it extra dimension.
They point to an analysis of research conducted between1990 and 2016 on spirituality and health. There were 17 high quality studies done in that period, and 14 of them reported a positive relationship between spirituality and maintaining strong cognitive function.[ii]
Go Do It
We all hope that drug and genetic research comes up with better answers for AD some day. But until then, lifestyle choices such as staying active and engaging your brain with challenges are the most potent tools with have to protect our memory and cognition.
This all gives you good reason to look into Kirtan Kriya meditation. But how and where?
It’s actually easy to find help.
1. You may find a practitioner near you, as it is associated with Kundalini yoga. So call some yoga centers and ask.
2. There is a description of how to practice on the
3. But if you want to chant along with someone who can keep you humming the right tones, then go to YouTube and type in “Kirtan Kriya.” Meditators are waiting to help!
[i]Khalsa DS, Newberg AB. Spiritual Fitness: A New Dimension in Alzheimer's Disease Prevention. J Alzheimer’s Dis. 2021;80(2):505-519. doi: 10.3233/JAD-201433.
[ii]Hosseini S, Chaurasia A, Oremus M. The Effect of Religion and Spirituality on Cognitive Function: A Systematic Review. Gerontologist. 2019 Mar 14;59(2):e76-e85. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnx024.