Alice G. Walton, Forbes: For those who are still skeptical about whether mind-body practices like meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi actually work, a new study goes further in laying out how they affect us—right down to the level of our genes. The meta-analysis, published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, looks back over a number of previous studies on the effects of the different practices on gene expression. It turns out that the practices all seem to have a beneficial effect on the expression of a slew of different genes …
Experienced practitioners reap genetic changes after a day of mindfulness meditation
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): Results of a recent study cofunded by NCCAM suggest that one day of intense mindfulness by experienced meditators led to biological changes including expression of certain genes that play roles in inflammation and pain. Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving drugs have similar effects on these genes. Findings from the study appear in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Mindfulness meditation practices are a form of training that focuses attention on breathing to develop increased awareness of the present. The study, conducted in 40 participants, focused on gaining more knowledge about molecular and genetic effects of this type of meditation and also on testing the feasibility of the study approach for future work.
Researchers divided participants into two groups. The first (active) group, which consisted of 19 people who had practiced daily meditation for at least 3 years, performed 8 hours of intensive mindfulness practice during one day. The other group, a control group of 21 people who had no experience with meditation, spent 8 hours performing quiet leisure activities in the same setting as the meditators. The researchers took blood samples before and after both interventions and analyzed them for certain biological factors, including the expression of various genes important in the regulatory processes for inflammation, circadian rhythms (which refer to the body’s internal “clock”), or histones (proteins in cells that attach to DNA). Researchers also took samples of participants’ saliva to determine the levels of the hormone cortisol as an indicator of recovery time after participants took a test that put them under acute stress.
The investigators found no significant differences between the active and control groups in these biological factors at the study’s start. However, after the interventions, the meditators showed some changes not seen in the control group. These included reduced expression levels of certain genes related to inflammation and histones. The reduced levels for two of these genes were associated with faster recovery from the stress test. No significant differences occurred between groups with respect to circadian genes.
The researchers suggested that their findings may offer a possible mechanism for explaining beneficial effects from meditation on inflammatory disorders, and an avenue for future research in chronic inflammatory conditions.
How meditation helps beat stress
Scientists have achieved a breakthrough in understanding how relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, and prayer improve health.
Research collaborators from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Genomics Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center say that such relaxation techniques work by changing patterns of gene activity that affect how the body responds to stress.
“It’s not all in your head. What we’ve found is that when you evoke the relaxation response, the very genes that are turned on or off by stress are turned the other way. The mind can actively turn on and turn off genes,” says Dr Herbert Benson of the institute.
During the study, Benson and his colleagues compared gene-expression patterns in 19 long-term practitioners,19 healthy controls, and 20 newcomers who underwent eight weeks of relaxation-response training.
The researchers observed that over 2,200 genes were activated differently in the long-time practitioners relative to the controls, and 1,561 genes in the short-timers compared to the long-time practitioners. The researchers also saw changes in cellular metabolism, response to oxidative stress and other processes in both short and long-term practitioners.[via The Times of India]