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Meditation can fight inflammatory disease on the genetic level

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 by: Eleni Roumeliotou
Tags: meditation, inflammatory disease, genetics

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(NaturalNews) Recent scientific research regarding the effects of meditation on human psychology and physiology has revealed that the popular practice holds tremendous potential for natural well-being. Initially, it was believed that meditation can only change behavioral patterns and enhance emotional stability, but it has now become clear that this is only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, mediation triggers very important genetic and physiological changes in the human body.

Beyond the realm of psychology, emerging evidence shows that meditation can actually have a profound positive impact on the molecular and cellular level. According to a study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology in 2011, meditation increases the production of telomerase in the human body. This enzyme is responsible for the elongation of the telomeres, the protective caps at the end of each chromosome, which tend to shorten in every cycle of replication until they reach a critical length, prohibiting further replication. The length of the telomeres is considered a reliable marker of cellular aging and levels of immune functions, and they reveal pre-existing or rapidly upcoming disease; the shorter they are, the more likely a person will be affected by a pathological condition. Telomerase is the only way for telomeres to stay long, but unfortunately, the enzyme is practically inactive in adults.

Luckily, telomeres' lengths respond well to lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and moderate exercise, and according to the novel study, meditation and mindfulness practices now form another way to boost natural health at the genetic level. After 30 days of intensive meditation training, the participants of the above study showed increased levels of telomerase, which is believed to directly affect telomere length and the functions of the immune system.

Meditation changes gene expression

The last piece in the meditation saga comes from a soon to be published collaborative effort between scientists in France, Spain and Wisconsin, which shows that meditators experience real genetic changes. The scientists measured the differences in actual gene expression in two groups of participants, those who meditated intensely for just one day and those who didn't. The study showed that meditation altered the expression of a variety of genes, most of which are implicated in disease and immunological responses. Among the genes investigated are current targets of analgesic or anti-inflammatory drugs, which means that meditation can alter levels of pain and alleviate inflammation in a very measurable manner. Apart from turning off genes that promote inflammation, meditation also regulated the functions of genes that allow people to handle anxiety and stress better, due to faster recovery from cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.

This study helps significantly to expand the current understanding of the contribution of lifestyle to health and disease. Although the medical establishment puts tremendous effort in perpetuating the fatalistic notion that the basis of most diseases is genetic and little or nothing can be done about it, research actually proves exactly the opposite. In fact, human genes are very dynamic in their responses to external stimuli; stress, diet and exercise can cause genetic changes within a few hours. If a single day of meditation positively affects genes that control inflammation, pain and stress management, then it looks like natural health can be achieved much easier and faster than previously believed.

Sources for this article include:

Jacobs TL, Epel ES, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Wolkowitz OM, Bridwell DA, Zanesco AP, Aichele SR, Sahdra BK, MacLean KA, King BG, Shaver PR, Rosenberg EL, Ferrer E, Wallace BA, Saron CD. 2011. Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 36(5):664-81.

Carmody J, Baer RA. 2008. Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. J Behav Med. 31(1):23-33.

Sahdra BK, MacLean KA, Ferrer E, Shaver PR, Rosenberg EL, Jacobs TL, Zanesco AP, King BG, Aichele SR, Bridwell DA, Mangun GR, Lavy S, Wallace BA, Saron CD. 2011. Enhanced response inhibition during intensive meditation training predicts improvements in self-reported adaptive socioemotional functioning. Emotion. 11(2):299-312.

Kaliman P. et al., .2014.Rapid changes in histone deacetylases and inflammatory gene expression in expert meditators. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Epub ahead of print.

About the author:
Eleni Roumeliotou has trained as a geneticist, gaining a Master degree in Human Molecular Genetics by Imperial College London, UK. She left the academic research environment to focus on her true passion, which is evidence-based natural health and alternative medicine. Eleni is currently working towards her Clinical Nutrition Master degree and is blogging regularly in Primal Health .

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