June 07, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team
In This Article
Mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as meditation, yoga and Tai Chi can ‘reverse’ the molecular reactions in our DNA which cause ill-health and depression, according to a study by the universities of Coventry and Radboud.
The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, reviews over a decade of studies analyzing how the behaviour of our genes is affected by different MBIs including mindfulness and yoga.
Experts from the universities conclude that, when examined together, the 18 studies — featuring 846 participants over 11 years — reveal a pattern in the molecular changes which happen to the body because of MBIs, and how those changes benefit our mental and physical health.
The genes that influence the body, brain, and immune system
The researchers focus on how gene expression is impacted, or more specifically, how genes activate to produce proteins that affect the immune system, brain, and body’s biochemical makeup.
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which controls the “fight-or-flight” reaction, is activated when a person is exposed to a stressful situation. This, in turn, increases the production of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) which regulates how our genes are expressed.
As a short-term fight-or-flight response, NF-kB translates stress by activating genes to produce proteins known as cytokines that cause inflammation at the cellular level. However, if this response is persistent, it increases the risk of cancer, accelerates aging, and causes psychiatric disorders like depression.
Yoga and Mediation can alter the fight-or-flight response gene
According to the study, however, people who practice MBIs exhibit the opposite effect — namely a decrease in the production of NF-kB and cytokines, leading to a reversal of the pro-inflammatory gene expression pattern and a reduction in the risk of inflammation-related diseases and conditions.
The study’s authors say the inflammatory effect of the fight-or-flight response — which also serves to temporarily bolster the immune system — would have played an important role in humankind’s hunter-gatherer prehistory when there was a higher risk of infection from wounds.
Today, however, where stress is increasingly psychological and often longer-term, pro-inflammatory gene expression can be persistent and therefore more likely to cause psychiatric and medical problems.
Yoga and meditation can change the genetic code
“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,” said, Lead investigator Ivana Buric from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement.
“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 that improves our well-being,” said Buric.
“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,” she added.
“Diseases like Hypertension, Diabetes etc. what we call as lifestyle diseases arise in the mind and need to be essentially treated in the mind. Anadhija is basically injuries and infections which can be treated with Ayurveda and/ or modern medicine.”
Materials provided by Coventry University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Ivana Buric, Miguel Farias, Jonathan Jong, Christopher Mee, Inti A. Brazil. 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; 8 DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00670
Coventry University. “Meditation and yoga can ‘reverse’ DNA reactions which cause stress, new study suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 June 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170615213301.htm>.
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