The latest research on different mind-body interventions like Tai Chi, meditation, and yoga found that practicing these interventions on a regular basis can – reverse DNA reactions that contribute to stress, depression, and poor physical and mental health – and relax your mind and body.
Researchers from UK’s Coventry University reviewed 18 studies including 846 participants over 11 years to find out how can one change DNA through mindfulness, yoga, and other mind-body interactions. The 2017 study focused on how different genes activate to generate proteins that biological reactions in our brain, body, and immune system.
They figured out that these interventions decrease the production of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB), a molecule responsible for gene expression. Whenever we experience stress, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) triggers flight or fight response. (This response temporarily bolsters the immune system. It was more advantageous for hunter-gatherers who mainly engaged in hunting activities to survive. They had more chance of injury and infection.)
This flight or fight process during stress triggers the production of NF-kB, which releases cytokines that cause cellular inflammation. Although this, whole mechanism helps us deal with a stressful situation, if persists can turn dangerous for our mind and body. If this mechanism is not stopped it can lead to early ageing, cancer or mental health problems like depression and various inflammation-related diseases and conditions.
By suppressing NF-kB and cytokines, mind-body interventions save our bodies from prolonged cellular inflammation. These interventions reverse the pro-inflammatory gene expression causing fewer inflammation-related issues and other health problems.
We are living in a fast-paced digital world, technology has permeated our lives so much that we are racing against time to meet modern-day challenges. Demanding lifestyles, less physical activities, poor sleep patterns, and anxiety disorders have become part of most people.
Such a lifestyle exposes a person to prolonged stress, therefore, pro-inflammatory gene expression can be persistent. Hence, there is an increasing prevalence of psychiatric and medical problems according to the World Health Organization.
Thanks to the mind-body interventions, which leave a molecular signature in our cells, reversing the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed.
In a similar study conducted in 2012 by Gaelle Desbordes, Harvard neuroscientist and radiology instructor, that focused only on meditation – results showed that meditation changes how the brain works. The before and after brain MRI scans showed that meditation changed the areas of the brain for memory, emotion regulation, focus, body awareness, and communication.
Another 2017 Harvard study showed that meditating 15 minutes daily changed 172 genes. that control inflammation, sleep-wake rhythms, and how sugar processes. The relaxation response triggered by meditation caused a decrease in blood pressure.
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.”
Single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), which allows measuring blood flow. The more blood flow a brain area has, the more active it is (red > yellow > green > blue > black). The brains of Tibetan Buddhist meditators were scanned. Results decreased activity in the parietal lobe during meditation (lower right shows up as yellow rather than the red in the left image).