Meditation calms the stream of jumbled thoughts, and relieves stress, enhancing physical and emotional well-being. In fact, mindfulness therapies are associated with structural changes in the brain. They can strengthen brain neurons and can change the configuration of these networks. That is the reason why Mindfulness therapy (MT), including Qigong, Tai Chi, meditation, and yoga, etc., has become an effective complementary treatment modality for neurodegenerative diseases in solving clinical and subclinical problems due to its advantages of low side effects, less pain, and easy acceptance by patients.
Due to their irreversibility, neurodegenerative disorders (ND) have drawn more attention; nonetheless, there is currently no clinically available treatment for ND. Mental and emotional illnesses are the main conditions that are treated with mindfulness therapy. Nonetheless, recent research has indicated that these treatments may be therapeutically effective for neurodegenerative illnesses that may have a biological cause.
The pathogenesis of neurodegenerative illnesses was summarised by the authors of the review paper that was published in Frontiers in Neuroscience. They examined the effects of mindfulness therapies on the biological pathways involved in the development or maintenance of various illnesses. Additional explanations for the potential benefits of mindfulness meditation as a treatment for neurodegenerative disorders may be found in the research.
What are neurodegenerative diseases?
Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and other disorders are examples of neurodegenerative diseases, which are mostly brought on by the death of certain neurons in the central nervous system. These are illnesses that progressively weaken and kill off sections of your neurological system, particularly the brain. Usually, these illnesses take time to manifest, with symptoms and effects showing up later in life.
This word encompasses more than one kind of illness. Rather, it’s a general phrase that covers a range of circumstances. Abnormal protein accumulation, gene mutation, elevated reactive oxygen species, neuroinflammation, mitochondrial malfunction, and apoptosis are the main causes of illness.
Most people affected by neurodevelopmental illnesses are over 65, and symptoms usually get worse over time. In clinical practice, there is presently no treatment for ND that may entirely cure the condition; most medications merely help to decrease the rate of decline and increase patient survival.
What are Mindfulness Therapies? How do they work?
Qigong, Tai Chi, yoga, meditation, and other mental and physical exercises are examples of mindfulness therapies. The ancient Chinese perfected the self-exercise technique of breathing control and meditation to maximize physical and mental fitness even 5,000 years ago.
Alternative medical modalities such as tai chi, yoga, meditation, and others have gradually gained popularity. A wide definition of mindfulness is a kind of unelaborated, nonjudgmental present-centred awareness that welcomes every thought, feeling, and experience as it emerges in the attentional field.
To achieve physical and mental balance, practitioners of mindfulness therapy are advised to develop this awareness through meditation, actively and objectively attend to the present moment with an attitude of acceptance (not over-identification) instead of a reactionary attitude, and concurrently work with specific operations to achieve body and mind.
Many people have used mindfulness therapies to address chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties.
Role of Mindfulness Therapies in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases
Although MT’s importance in the prevention and treatment of ND has garnered a lot of attention recently, its molecular mechanism has not been thoroughly outlined. To explore the possible molecular mechanism of MT to prevent ND, this research starts with the established molecular mechanism of MT and the risk factors for ND.
The relationship between the therapeutic treatment’s molecular interactions and the biological target (such as a receptor, enzyme, etc.) that produces the physiological response is known as the molecular mechanism of action, or MMoA, in medicine.
Mindfulness therapy and its impact on molecules in the brain
At the ends of chromosomes are structures called telomeres, which are composed of proteins and DNA sequences. Like the end of a shoelace, they cover and shield the end of a chromosome. Cell division in nearly all organisms, from the most basic to the most sophisticated, requires telomeres. In both peripheral blood mononuclear cells and white blood cells, mindfulness therapy has been shown to increase telomere activity and prolong telomeres. This is essential for chromosome placement, replication, and protection; it also controls cell growth and lifetime by preventing fusion and degeneration of chromosome ends.
Human metabolism depends on methylation processes for processes like gene expression, cellular detoxification, neurotransmitter synthesis, cell division, and tissue repair. The process of methylation is biochemical. The regulation of gene expression in the human brain and blood depends on DNA methylation. On the other hand, DNA methylation may act as a mediator, moderator, or even a result of common disorders.
Prolonged Mindfulness Therapy can methylate genes, impacting the proteins that these genes encode, managing the dynamic process of methylation and demethylation, and amplifying the benefits that the organism receives from the DNA alterations (epigenetic process).
Several studies have shown that the practices of yoga, tai chi, and meditation can reduce the build-up of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cells by lowering oxidative stress markers like ROS and 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine, preserving brain homeostasis, and increasing the activity of enzymes that break down ROS through meditation combined with rhythmic breathing exercises.
Furthermore, while having no effect on baseline levels in the general population, meditation can drop salivary cortisol levels and reduce stress in those with high baseline levels. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that brief meditation increases side-sympathetic nerve tension and lowers sympathetic nervous system activity. Although the sympathetic nervous system’s response can cause inflammation, the neurosympathetic nervous system’s activation of acetylcholine can prevent NF-κB and inflammatory responses.
Possible therapeutic mechanisms of Mindfulness Therapies against Neurodegenerative diseases
MT delays aging and has the potential to combat ND cognitive impairment
Aging is the main risk factor for most neurodegenerative disorders. Aging as a physiological process, results in a wide range of cellular and molecular anomalies. The four main causes of aging are oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, telomere length loss, and DNA damage. Telomere loss is the fundamental cause of aging. Increased telomerase activity from mindfulness therapy has the opposite impact on cognitive impairment.
The epigenetic potential of ND is controlled by MT
Changes in DNA called epigenetic dysregulation have been related to neurodegenerative diseases (ND) and cognitive decline.
Long-term meditators show different patterns of methylation in areas related to inflammation, cellular senescence, lipid and glucose metabolism, immunology, and neurotransmission compared to non-meditators. These genes’ methylation may affect ND directly or indirectly.
Meditation may regulate the expression of genes linked to ND through the epigenetic process of DNA methylation, thereby reducing symptoms and delaying the progression of the illness. On the other hand, prolonged meditation practice may be required to control gene expression, something that transient meditation cannot achieve. Larger sample sizes must be used in experiments to support this idea.
MT’s potential to combat ND-related neuroinflammation
Reactive oxygen species build up because of chronic oxidative stress, harming target molecules such as proteins, lipid structures, and DNA. One important factor contributing to ND is an imbalance in the antioxidant system. A disruption in the equilibrium between the generation and consumption of reactive oxygen species can lead to an imbalance in the antioxidant system, a loss of brain equilibrium, and neurodegenerative diseases (ND).
Prolonged stress can accelerate the degeneration of nigrostriatal cells in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and exacerbate motor symptoms, including tremor.
One of the key processes in the genesis of ND is neuroinflammation, which is linked to ND and can hasten the disease’s course through both systemic and central inflammation. By suppressing NF-κB activity, MT postpones the aging process caused by DNA damage and, consequently, the neurodegeneration associated with aging.
Long-term practice of meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and qigong induces downregulation of NF-κB-related upstream and downstream targets, which may reduce stress and inflammatory responses by inhibiting the NF-κB pathway through the RIPK2 pathway, delaying the onset of ND.
Mindfulness therapies can prevent and reduce the progression of neurodegenerative diseases
“Current research finds that the mechanisms affecting the onset and development of diseases mainly include incorrect folding and aggregation of proteins, neuropathy, cellular procedural death, and aging. Circadian rhythm disorder, nutritional inadequacies, stress, inflammatory reactions, age, and gene mutations are typical risk factors for ND,” concluded authors Congcong Wu and Yue Feng, Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine Chengdu, China.
Neurodegenerative disorders can be prevented and treated by using mindfulness therapies that target these risk factors. MT can stop and slow the progression of ND via altering DNA methylation related to ND to control gene expression, lowering anxiety and depression to regulate circadian rhythms, increasing telomerase activity to delay aging, and lowering stress and NF-κB-induced neuroinflammatory reactions. By using these processes, MT can start a positive cycle that will lessen the severity of ND symptoms and slow down the disease’s progression.
“The clinical effects of MT on ND have demonstrated that MT can enhance patients’ quality of life, improve symptoms like anxiety and depression, and slow the progression of the disease,” they add.
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