gene expression

Can Meditation Affect Your Genes?

By Marc Lallanilla, Assistant Editor   |   December 10, 2013 03:32pm ET

There’s a large and growing body of evidence that psychological stress — the kind experienced by war orphans, caretakers of people with dementia, and men and women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — can cause genetic damage.

But if psychological stress can cause genetic damage, can stress-relieving activities such as meditation and mindfulness training help reduce genetic damage?

Perhaps: A recent study seems to suggest that a period of meditation might alter the expression of genes that are linked to inflammation and promote a faster recovery from a stressful situation.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison took blood samples from 40 volunteers — 19 of whom were long-term meditators — before and after an eight-hour session. The group of experienced meditators spent the session in guided and unguided meditation; the other group watched documentaries, read and played computer games.

The role of inflammation

There was no significant difference in genetic markers between the two groups at the start of the eight-hour test period. However, at the end of the day, researchers found reduced expression of certain histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes and of the genes RIPK2 and COX2 — all of which are linked to inflammation.

These findings are important because of the role inflammation plays in the progress and treatment of disease. Recent research has found that chronic inflammation may be at the core of diseases such asrheumatoid arthritis, asthma, heart disease, lupus, cancer, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

“The changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic [pain-relief] drugs,” Perla Kaliman, lead author of the article (published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology) and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain, said in a statement.

Improved stress management

In a stress test, the volunteers were forced into an impromptu public-speaking role involving mental arithmetic performed in front of two judges and a video camera. Levels of cortisol — a hormone associated with high stress levels — were measured before and after the stress test.

Among both groups of volunteers, those participants with the lowest levels of RIPK2 and HDAC-2 genes had the quickest return to normal, pre-stress test levels of cortisol.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” study co-author Richard J. Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in the statement.

Lifestyle and genetics

This recent study supports other research that seems to indicate there’s real, measurable benefit to lifestyle modifications like stress reduction.

A 2013 study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), found that men who ate a better diet, exercised moderately and led a less-stressful lifestyle for a few years had an increase in the length of their telomeres — the caps at the ends of chromosomes that protect them from deterioration.

And a study from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that adults with shorter telomeres were at an increased risk of catching thecommon cold compared with people with longer telomeres.

Though some may find the proposed link between meditation and genetics a bit far-fetched, a growing number of experts believe the association is real. “It is well established that chronic stress and acute stress are associated with both greater inflammatory proteins as well as gene expression of inflammatory pathways,” said Elissa Epel, professor of psychiatry at UCSF.

“Inflammation is thought of as ‘inflam-aging,’ since it is a major factor regulating cellular aging and many chronic diseases,” Epel said. “It’s crucial to find behavioral factors that can prevent the rising tide of inflammation as we age. Meditation and mindfulness training in daily life should be high on the list of promising anti-aging interventions.”

The University of Wisconsin-Madison study was funded by grants from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Fetzer Institute, the John Templeton Foundation and an anonymous donor.

Follow Marc Lallanilla on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience,Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Meditation Produces Opposite Effect of ‘Fight or Flight’ | Psych Central News

By Traci Pedersen Associate News Editor

Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on May 4, 2013

Meditation Produces Opposite Effect of ‘Fight or Flight’ A new study reveals that practitioners of meditation experience changes in gene expression that are the exact opposite of what occurs during the “flight or fight” stress response.

Specifically, genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion, and telomere maintenance are turned on, while those involved in inflammation are turned off.

These effects are more significant and consistent for long-term practitioners.

People who practice simple meditation aren’t “just relaxing,” explained the study’s senior author, Dr. Herbert Benson. Instead, they’re experiencing “a specific genomic response that counteracts the harmful genomic effects of stress.”

It’s been shown that repeating a yoga pose, prayer, or mantra while disregarding other thoughts protects against anxiety and depression as well as physical conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and types of cancer that are exacerbated by stress.

For the study, published in the open access journal PLoS One, researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Subjects trained 26 adults with no previous meditation experience for eight weeks.

The participants practiced deep breathing, repeated mantras, and learned to ignore intrusive thoughts.

At first, they were given blood tests immediately before and 15 minutes after listening to a 20-minute health education CD. This was repeated after their training, except this time with a CD that guided them through meditation. Twenty-five other individuals, who had long-term experience in evoking the relaxation response, were tested as well.

All of the subjects’ blood samples revealed changes in gene expression following meditation. The changes were the exact opposite of what occurs during flight or fight. In the long-term practitioners, the effects were more pronounced and consistent.

Although the study only explored one way of reaching a relaxation response, people have been figuring this out for themselves for thousands of years, through yoga, prayer, and other forms of meditation.

This is the first time, however, that researchers have been able to show that these practices actually produce a change in gene expression.

The findings show that the effects of the relaxation response become stronger with practice, typically twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes. “Do it for years,” said Benson, “and then these effects are quite powerful in how they change your gene activity.”

Source: PLoS ONE

via Meditation Produces Opposite Effect of ‘Fight or Flight’ | Psych Central News.

 

Yoga Isn’t Just Good For Your Mind, It’s Good For Your Genes | Greatist

There are lots of reasons to start practicing yoga and meditation. Yogis get to shop at Lululemon and tote around fancy rolled-up mats. Those who meditate attract admiring looks when they sit poised in lotus position in the middle of a crowded office building.

Okay, so we’re being a bit facetious. But, as it turns out, the om-and-down-dog crowd may be doing more than just jumping on the latest trend. Multiple studies released over the last few months provide solid evidence that yoga and meditation can undo the serious damage that stress wreaks on our bodies. At a time when many Americans report high levels of stress, these findings are a good reason for healthcare professionals to start recommending these techniques on a regular basis.

What’s the Deal?

In one recent study, researchers recruited a small group of newbie meditators and trained them for six weeks in the art of breathing deeply, repeating mantras, and ignoring intrusive thoughts. At the end of the training, researchers drew blood before and 15 minutes after participants listened to a 20-minute guided meditation CD. What they found was remarkable: All the blood samples showed positive changes in gene expression the process by which certain genes are turned “on” or “off”.

Specifically, genes linked to energy metabolism, mitochondria function, insulin secretion, and telomere maintenance were activated, while genes associated with stress and inflammation were deactivated. Researchers also ran the same experiment on a group of more experienced meditators, and found that the pros’ blood samples showed even more significant, positive changes in gene expression.Other recent research has yielded similar findings. Scientists have found that yoga induces changes in the expression of genes related to the immune system in other words, yoga may boost immunity, and that practicing yoga and meditation can help the body heal faster from disease [1] [2].

Why It MattersAt the same time that scientists have been finding that yoga and meditation can cause changes at the cellular level, other researchers have shown how chronic stress can cause long-term physiological and psychological damage. In studies, mice that have high levels of cortisol the stress hormone also show weakened immune systems. Presumably, these findings may apply to humans as well. [3].  And people who report high levels of stress in their daily lives are more likely to experience chronic health conditions and/or psychological disorders down the line [4] [5].

The implications of both these areas of research are huge. As many as 20 percent of Americans say they experience extreme stress and many don’t know where to turn for help. Yoga and meditation provide a scientifically-backed, highly practical way to help manage some of this stress before it does lasting damage to our minds and bodies. We’re not talking about a huge lifestyle change, either. In the most recent study, blood samples showed changes in gene expression after participants meditated for just 20 minutes albeit after spending some time learning proper yoga and meditation techniques.

The good news is that it’s likely some of the most stressed people are already yogis and/or meditators. As of 2012, more than 20 million Americans practiced yoga, and more than half said they practice for stress relief. At the same time, in 2011, more than six million Americans were advised to practice alternative mind-body therapies by their healthcare provider [6].All this research provides convincing evidence for making yoga and meditation something healthcare professionals recommend on a regular basis. Other possibilities include workplace interventions that focus on teaching yoga and meditation techniques. With any luck, at some point these practices won’t even be considered “alternative” anymore.

Do you practice yoga and or meditation regularly? What are your motivations? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author at @ShanaDLebowitz.

via Yoga Isn’t Just Good For Your Mind, It’s Good For Your Genes | Greatist.