Posted on Jul 06, 2017, 2 a.m.
Meditation and yoga are not only relaxing; they can also 'reverse' molecular reactions in DNA which trigger ill-health and depression.
Research recently published in the Frontiers in Immunology journal shows the behavior of human genes is impacted by different mind-body interventions including yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation. Mind-body interventions, commonly referred to with the acronym of MBI, do much more than relax people. They also reverse molecular reactions within DNA that spur the onset of depression and health maladies. The research was conducted by Radboud University in the Netherlands and Coventry University in the United Kingdom. Ivana Buric of Coventry University's Brain Belief, and Behavior Lab served the study's lead investigator.
About the Research
The academicians at the above-referenced universities reviewed 18 studies encompassing 846 individuals across 11 years. They determined a pattern of molecular changes that result from MBIs and how those alterations benefit mental health as well as physical health. The research team zeroes in on how gene expression is impacted. This phraseology refers to the manner in which genes are activated to produce proteins that influence the body's biological make-up, the immune system, and the brain.
When an individual endures a stressful event, his sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is stimulated. This is the system that is responsible for the human body's “fight or flight” response. The triggering of this system boosts the production of a molecule referred to as nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) that regulates the manner in which genes are expressed. NF-kB activates genes to create proteins known as cytokines that spur inflammation at the cellular level. This reaction is helpful as it serves as a temporary fight or flight reaction. However, if it is persistent, there is a higher chance for the onset of cancer as well as faster aging and even psychiatric disorders such as depression.
The Power of MBIs
The study reveals those who practice MBIs experience a reduction in NF-kB and cytokines that spur a reversal of the pro-inflammatory gene expression as well as a reduction in the risk of conditions and diseases related to inflammation. The study's authors state the inflammatory effect of the body's fight or flight response plays a key role in humanity's hunter-gatherer prehistory when there was an enhanced risk of infection resulting from wounds. Yet in modern day society stress is more psychological in nature and sometimes longer-term. As a result, pro-inflammatory gene expression might be persistent and more inclined to spur medical and psychiatric problems.
The Rise of MBIs
In summary, the benefits of MBI commence at the molecular level and alter the ways in which our genetic codes operate. This is fantastic news for the millions of people who engage in MBIs on a regular basis. These individuals already enjoy the health benefits of such exercises. It appears as though they also enjoy the reversal of DNA reactions that induce stress and anxiety. In layman's terms, MBIs allow the brain to steer the human body's DNA processes along a route that improves well-being. Additional studies must be conducted to gain a more in-depth understanding of these effects. It will be interesting to find out if the benefits of MBIs are comparable to those provided by traditional exercise or a healthy diet.
Ivana Buric et al, 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 (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00670