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‘Mindfulness’ meditation affects gene—study

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
mindfulness meditation can ease emotional stress.

It’s no secret that mindfulness meditation—a practice that encourages focusing attention on the present moment—can ease emotional stress. 


And evidence is mounting that mindfulness also may have key benefits for your physical health—from lowering blood pressure to helping curb addiction.


But a new study conducted by researchers working in Wisconsin, Spain, and France shows that mindfulness can even affect your genes. Specifically, the study shows that mindfulness can limit the “expression” of genes associated with inflammation.


“The changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,” study co-author Dr Perla Kaliman, a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona in Spain, said in a written statement. “Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions.”


For the study, a group of experienced meditators practised mindfulness over the course of an eight-hour period. During that same time period, another group of people simply engaged in quiet non-meditative activities.


What did the researchers find? After the sessions, they noticed a so-called “down-regulation,” or a suppression, of inflammatory genes in the meditators compared to the other group. Go figure, there was no difference in the tested genes between the two groups at the start of the study.


“The product of genes, example, the proteins that they manufacture, will vary with the extent to which the gene is turned on or off,” study author Dr Richard J Davidson, psychology professor and founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, told The Huffington Post in an e-mail. 


“We can think of genes possessing a molecular volume control that ranges from low to high that will govern the extent to which the gene produces the protein for which it is designed. The genes that we found to be down-regulated with mindfulness mediation practice are those implicated in inflammation.”


Davidson said in the statement that this new research is the first of its kind to show changes in gene expression within mindfulness meditators.


This study is slated for publication in the February 2014 issue of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.



Fascinating facts 



It makes your brain plastic


Quite literally, sustained meditation leads to something called neuroplasticity, which is defined as the brain's ability to change, structurally and functionally, on the basis of environmental input.


For much of the last century, scientists believed that the brain essentially stopped changing after adulthood.


But research by University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson has shown that experienced meditators exhibit high levels of gamma wave activity and display an ability—continuing after the meditation session has attended—to not get stuck on a particular stimulus. That is, they're automatically able to control their thoughts and reactiveness. 


It increases gray matter


A 2005 study on American men and women who meditated a mere 40 minutes a day showed that they had thicker cortical walls than non-meditators. What this meant is that their brains were aging at a slower rate. Cortical thickness is also associated with decision-making, attention and memory. 


It can be better than sleeping


In a 2006 study, college students were asked to either sleep, meditate or watch TV. They were then tested on their alertness by being asked to hit a button every time a light flashed on a screen. The meditators did better than the nappers and TV watchers—by a whole ten per cent. (Huffington Post)


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