University of Wisconsin–Madison

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.

Bill George: The Tipping Point for Mindfulness

The Tipping Point for Mindfulness

Posted: 06/21/2013 8:32 am

Mindfulness practices like meditation have been in existence for thousands of years, but only now are they reaching the tipping point in the Western world. Today’s pace and stress are so great that people are searching for new practices to find resilience in the midst of chaos, and mindfulness programs are helping them find better ways to live.

Mindfulness, the practice of self-observation without judgment, encompasses an array of activities in which we focus inward on our minds and our inner voices. New research studies are demonstrating conclusively that meditation and mindfulness are good for your health — and for your soul. This is why each of us should consider balancing the fast-paced nature of our lives with individual practices that cultivate mindfulness.

My Experiences with Meditation

I began meditating thirty-seven years ago after my wife Penny dragged me “kicking and screaming” to a weekend training program in transcendental meditation at the University of Minnesota. I started meditating twenty minutes, twice a day, and stayed with the practice because I felt better and was more effective at work and at home. Meditation helps me relieve the stress of the day, gain clarity about what’s important, open up creative ideas, and find added energy and a deep sense of well-being. For a practice that costs nothing and doesn’t involve medication, that’s a good bargain.

For years I was reluctant to talk about meditating, as it sounded too “new age,” especially to the media. Today, mindfulness is becoming mainstream, no longer confined to closed-door meditation circles and therapy sessions. Public interest in mindfulness is increasing, as evidenced by the proliferation of literature on the subject; an Amazon search for “mindfulness” brings up 4,006 books.

Let me describe how meditation works in my daily life. When I open my emails, I am bombarded with requests and information. There are packages to read from the boards on which I serve, messages from Harvard colleagues, inquiries about speaking, and an unending stream of requests. Meanwhile, the phone is ringing, people are stopping by my office with questions, and I am trying to prepare to teach my next class. Navigating through these issues requires constant context shifting, which can leave me mentally drained.

After I meditate, I feel calm and centered, having slowed my mind from the adrenalin-fueled, frenetic workday pace. Consequently, I am able to focus deeply on the big questions and do my most productive thinking. The clarity that comes with meditation enables me to escape from my never-ending “to do” list and concentrate on my most important priorities, not letting them be overtaken by the urgent, less important tasks that can be delegated. The self-awareness that comes from meditation helps me understand how others perceive me and how to empower them.

The Science of Meditation

Research has shown that meditation is powerful enough to alter the makeup of the human mind. Thanks to the personal dedication of the Dalai Lama and the Mind and Life Institute he founded in the U.S., neuro science researchers are studying mindfulness meditation. Breakthrough research using fMRI technology conducted by Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison have demonstrated the correlation between mindfulness and changes in the regions of the brain related to learning, memory, and emotion. Other studies have shown that mindfulness is as effective for treating depression as antidepressant drugs.

A Massachusetts General Hospital study discovered that meditation has the ability to change one’s gene expression (which genes are turned “on” or “off”) in as little as six weeks, based on blood samples before and after meditation. Genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance were enhanced while genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways were reduced. Another Massachusetts General Hospital study showed that eight weeks of meditation shrunk the amygdala, the portion of the brain modulating response to fear and stress.

Meditation and its Applications

In a recent Huffington Post article, my wife Penny highlighted the importance of mindfulness in integrative medicine in connecting the mind, body, and spirit. Integrative medicine encourages patients to practice inexpensive and non-toxic activities such as yoga, massage, healthy eating, and mindfulness meditation in combination with conventional Western medicine. Mindfulness is also practiced by health professionals in order to cope with the immense stress of their work. Allina Health, the largest health system in Minnesota, offers resilience-training programs for employees that encourage mindfulness, nutrition, and exercise to manage anxiety and depression.

Most leaders do everything they can to shape their enterprises, but if they don’t step back from constant action, they lose perspective and their sense of priority, as well as their ability to create original solutions. That’s why many companies like Walt Disney, General Mills, and Google have made mindfulness an important element of their company cultures by offering it to their employees.

Thirty years ago, Disney brought in Ron Alexander, a meditation teacher, to teach seminars to inspire their creative teams. Following the meditation seminars, Disney’s teams dreamed up Tokyo Disney, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Today, the company incorporates meditative practice into its workplace and is regarded as one of the world’s most innovative companies.

For the past seven years, General Mills employees have engaged in meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices while at work. General Mills reports that 80 percent of employees practicing mindfulness were able to make better decisions with greater clarity and 89 percent reported enhanced ability in listening to others. Marturano recently formed the Institute for Mindful Leadership to bring mindfulness training to corporate executives.

In April 2012, Google announced a new program titled “Search Inside Yourself,” a free course for employees designed to teach emotional intelligence through the practice of meditation. The program was designed by Chade-Meng Tan, a Google engineer looking for a way to ease the burden of Google’s fast-paced, demanding environment. Mr. Tan’s program is very popular among employees, generating a waiting list each time it’s offered.

Cultivating mindfulness takes daily practice. Mindfulness allows us to live in the present, bringing a deeper understanding of what is happening and how we respond to it. I urge you to give it a try. You will be glad you did, and so will those around you.

Bill George is professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and author of True North and Authentic Leadership. He is the former chair and CEO of Medtronic. Read more at www.BillGeorge.org, or follow him on Twitter @Bill_George.

Bill George: The Tipping Point for Mindfulness.

 

Review: ‘Free the Mind’ documentary finds hope in meditation – latimes.com

By Gary Goldstein

May 16, 2013, 6:00 p.m.

There’s something healing about simply watching “Free the Mind,” Danish filmmaker Phie Ambo’s gentle, compassionate documentary spotlighting the use of such drug-free options as meditation and mindfulness to treat anxiety and trauma.

Writer-director Ambo focuses on three main subjects: Will, an endearing 5-year-old with ADHD and a fear of elevators; Steve, an Afghanistan war veteran haunted by his stint as a military intelligence soldier and interrogator; and Rich, a former battalion leader in Iraq wracked by guilt and horrific memories of combat. Fueled by the subtle parallels between young Will and the adult Steve and Rich, the movie follows the trio through brief, life-changing experiments overseen by neuroscientist Richard Davidson.

Davidson, who founded the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, believes the brain can be physically altered by the power of thought. Thus he guides the veterans toward peace and happiness through meditation, yoga and breathing exercises.

CHEAT SHEET: Cannes Film Festival 2013

Meanwhile, Will, with the help of some wonderful special teachers, undergoes similar anti-anxiety routines plus other child-geared calming practices. The results for all are hopeful and inspiring, though their work is clearly not done. Affecting private moments with the PTSD-affected Steve and Rich, as well as with Will’s kindly foster parents, further enhance this nicely edited film’s deeply human dimension.

—————————–

“Free the Mind.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills and select days at Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica and Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

via Review: ‘Free the Mind’ documentary finds hope in meditation – latimes.com.

 

UW study shows benefits of mindfulness meditation for inflammation

While interest in mindfulness meditation as a stress reliever has grown through the years, there’s been little evidence to support that it helps those suffering from chronic inflammation conditions in which psychological stress plays a major role.

Until now.

A new study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists suggests mindfulness meditation techniques may help people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction, originally designed for patients with chronic pain, consists of continuously focusing attention on the breath, bodily sensations and mental content while seated, walking or practicing yoga.

The study by UW neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center was the first designed to control for other therapeutic mechanisms, such as supportive social interaction, expert instruction or learning new skills, according to a UW news release.

The mindfulness-based approach is not a magic bullet, said Melissa Rosenkranz, assistant scientist at the center and lead author of the paper, which was published recently in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

But the study does show that there are ways that mindfulness can be beneficial, and that some people may be more likely to benefit from this approach than other interventions, she said.

Significant portions of the population do not benefit from available pharmaceutical treatment options, for example. Some of these patients suffer from negative side effects of the drugs or simply do not respond to the standard of care for treatment of the disorder.

“The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment, and it can be practiced easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need,” Rosenkranz said.

The study compared two methods of reducing stress: a mindfulness meditation-based approach and a program designed to enhance health in ways unrelated to mindfulness.

According to the news release:

The comparison group participated in the Health Enhancement Program, which consisted of nutritional education; physical activity, such as walking; balance, agility and core strengthening; and music therapy. The content of the program was meant to match aspects of the mindfulness instruction in some way. For example, physical exercise was meant to match walking meditation, without the mindfulness component. Both groups had the same amount of training, the same level of expertise in the instructors, and the same amount of home practice required of participants.

Using a tool called the Trier Social Stress Test to induce psychological stress and a capsaicin cream to produce inflammation on the skin, immune and endocrine measures were collected before and after training in the two methods. While both techniques were proven effective in reducing stress, the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach was more effective at reducing stress-induced inflammation.

The results show that behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity are beneficial to people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions. The study also suggests that mindfulness techniques may be more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms than other activities that promote well-being.

via UW study shows benefits of mindfulness meditation for inflammation.

 

How meditation changes brain rhythms to sooth pain and depression

Meditation isn’t only a way to relax or a throw-back to the 1960s when the Beatles first made the practice popular in the U.S. In fact, in recent years, mainstream scientists have published several studies showing that mindfulness meditation, which is centered on being aware of the present moment by focusing on the body and breath sensations, can prevent and treat depression. Meditation has also been found to help chronic pain.But what’s going on in the body to produce these benefits?

According to Brown University scientists, the answer appears to lie in how meditation changes the brain’s rhythms.People who meditate regularly, the researchers say, gain control over sensory cortical alpha rhythms. In simple English, this means meditation appears to change brain rhythms that regulate how the brain filters and processes a variety of sensations – including depressing memories and pain in the body.

The Brown University researchers, who just published a paper outlining their findings and ideas about how meditation works in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, base their proposal on published experimental results as well as a computer simulation of neural networks.

Because mindfulness meditation training begins with a highly localized focus on body and breath sensations, the scientists write, this enhances control over localized alpha rhythms in the part of the brain known as the primary somatosensory cortex where sensations from different body are “mapped.”In a way, by learning to control their focus on the present moment, mindfulness meditators become able to “turn down” a kind of internal “volume knob” for controlling specific, localized sensory alpha rhythms. That seems to allow them to turn away from internally focused negative thoughts and sensations.

“We think we’re the first group to propose an underlying neurophysiological mechanism that directly links the actual practice of mindful awareness of breath and body sensations to the kinds of cognitive and emotional benefits that mindfulness confers,” lead author Catherine Kerr, assistant professor research of family medicine at the Alpert Medical School and director of translational neuroscience for the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown, said in a press statement.

As Natural News previously covered, meditation results in beneficial physiological changes that can be measured. For example, a recent study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds found that mindfulness meditation not only reduces stress but also reduces inflammation. And this is clearly important information for the countless people with diseases such as arthritis who can’t take, or don’t want to rely on, side effect-laden anti-inflammatory drugs.

What’s more, a University of California, San Francisco UCSF study just published in the Association for Psychological Science journal Clinical Psychological Science found that people who reported more presence in the moment having a greater focus and engagement with their current activities had longer telomeres, even after adjusting for current stress in their lives. Telomeres are sort of caps at the ends of DNA that prevent the ends of chromosomes from fusing with nearby chromosomes or deteriorating.

They are biomarkers for aging and are known to get shorter and shorter when the body undergoes physiological and psychological stressors.Sources:http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2013/02/mindfulnesshttp://www.naturalnews.comhttp://www.naturalnews.comAbout the author:Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s “Healthy Years” newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s “Focus on Health Aging” newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s “Men’s Health Advisor” newsletter and many others.

via How meditation changes brain rhythms to sooth pain and depression.