It turns out that mind-body interventions (or MBIs) like meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi are actually capable of reversing molecular reactions in DNA which are responsible for poor health and depression.
The University of Coventry and the University of Radboud uncovered these findings, and the journal Frontiers in Immunology has published them. 18 different studies were scrutinized in all, spanning 846 participants and eleven years. More specifically, the focus was placed on the way that genes activate to generate proteins that impact the biological make-up of the human body, brain, and immune system.
It is known that when a human being experiences anxiety their sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicks in and a choice is made to either fight or fly.
Furthermore, a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) is produced, and this molecule regulates how human genes are expressed. NF-kB translates stress by utilizing genes to generate proteins called cytokines; these genes control inflammation at the cellular level. This process is beneficial during moments when fight or flight is necessary, but it can actually lead to cancer, faster aging, or psychiatric disorders such as depression if it occurs too frequently.
However, it has now been discovered that human beings who practice MBIs demonstrate a decrease in the production of NF-kB and cytokines—which results in a reversal of the pro-inflammatory gene expression and less inflammation-related issues. Fascinatingly, it has also been revealed that this fight or flight response was much more vital to human beings during hunter-gatherer times when wounds could easily become infected.
Head investigator Ivana Buric of the Brain, Belief, and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour, and Achievement points out that, “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.”
Moreover, Buric argues that
“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 wellbeing. More needs to be done to understand these effects in greater depth, for example how they compare with other health 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.”
Materials provided by Coventry University
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