New Study Finds Yoga, Tai Chi, and Meditation Affect the Way DNA Responds to Stress
Meditation, yoga, and tai chi are well known as practices that can help reduce stress and have been recognized by scientists as effective methods for improving mental and physical health, focusing on the healing power of the mind. However a recently published research paper suggests that the effects of such mind-body interventions (MBIs) start at a more fundamental level and may even offer the ability to reverse reactions to stress at the molecular level, affecting our DNA.
The study, conducted by researchers from Coventry University in the UK and Radboud University in the Netherlands and published on 16 June in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, reviewed 18 studies published over the last decade, focusing on the effects of mind-body interventions on our genes. The studies reveal that MBIs such as meditation, yoga, qi gong, and tai chi induce molecular-level changes to our gene expression, resulting in improved psychical and mental health. Gene expression is the process through which genetic information is activated to produce proteins that build up and drive the body, brain, and immune system.
When we are exposed to a stressful situations, our sympathetic nervous system—which is involved in the fight-or-flight response—is triggered, leading to increased production of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB). The NF-kB molecule, in turn, triggers our genes to produce proteins called cytokines, which cause inflammation at the cellular level. Inflammation temporarily boosts the immune system, which is helpful when the body is fighting an infection caused by trauma (for example, after sustaining a wound from a wild animal attack). Psychological stress, however, triggers a similar response, and extended periods of stress—and thus extended periods of heightened NF-kB and cytokines levels—increase the risk of cancer, accelerated aging, and psychiatric disorders such as depression.
According to the study, MBIs counter this reaction: people who meditate or practice yoga exhibit decreased production of NF-kB (and cytokines). Meditation and yoga thus seem to reverse the pro-inflammatory gene expression pattern associated with stress and thereby reduce the risk of inflammation-related diseases.
Ivana Buric, lead researcher for the study from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement, summarizes the findings of the study as follows:
Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realize is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business. These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing. More needs to be done to understand these effects in greater depth, for example how they compare with other healthy interventions like exercise or nutrition. But this is an important foundation to build on to help future researchers explore the benefits of increasingly popular mind-body activities. (Radboud University)
So the next time you are experiencing hightend levels of stress, you know the effects it has on your body and what you can do to counter them.
What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind–Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices (Frontiers in Immunology)
Meditation and Yoga May Change How Stress Affects Our DNA, Study Finds (NBC News)
Meditation and yoga can 'reverse' DNA reactions which cause stress, new study suggests (Science Daily)
Meditation, Yoga Can Reverse DNA Stress Reactions (Psych Central)
Meditation and yoga can ‘reverse’ DNA reactions which cause stress, new study suggests (Coventry University)
Meditation and yoga can ‘reverse’ DNA reactions which cause stress, new study suggests (Radboud University)
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