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Meditation and yoga reverse stress caused damages at the DNA level

By cwan | July 5th, 2017

I am a big fan of yoga. I like the yoga routines that are filled with dance-like movements and breathing meditation practices. I choose yoga for its relaxation and body-sculpturing effects. We all know that mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as meditation and yoga relax us. However, I’ve always wondered “how and why” yoga relaxes us. A joint group of researchers from University of Coverntry and University of Radhoud have just provided an answer – it turned out that yoga and meditation provide their health promoting benefits by reversing the disease and depression causing molecular reactions in our DNA.

The manuscript, published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, reviews over a decade of studies analyzing how the behavior of our genes is affected by MBIs including mindfulness and yoga. The researchers focus on how gene expression is affected, and specifically, how genes regulate the production of inflammation causing proteins such as cytokines. It turns out that the lynchpin of the action is a gene regulating protein called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB).

NF-kB is basically a “fight-or-flight” molecule. When a person is exposed to a stressful event, their sympathetic nervous system (SNS) — the system responsible for the ‘fight-or-flight’ response — is triggered, which in turn increases the production of NF-kB.   NF-kB translates stress by activating genes to produce proteins called cytokines. Cytokines cause inflammation at cellular level — which temporarily bolsters the immune system — a reaction that is useful as a short-lived fight-or-flight reaction, but if persistent, leads to a higher risk of cancer, accelerated aging and psychiatric disorders like depression.

According to the study, people who practice MBIs have decreased 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 researchers conclude that, when examined together, the 18 studies — featuring 846 participants over 11 years — reveal a pattern of the beneficial molecular changes as a result of MBIs.

The inflammatory effect of the fight-or-flight response has played an important role in humankind’s hunter-gatherer prehistory, when there was a higher risk of infection from wounds. In today’s society, however, where stress is increasingly psychological and often longer-term, pro-inflammatory gene expression can be persistent and therefore likely to cause psychiatric and medical problems. MBI activities seem to leave 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 wellbeing.

Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation. Now we know that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Connie Wan

Journal Reference: 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 PracticesFrontiers in Immunology, 2017; 8 DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00670
Source: Informed Nutrition