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The ancients had it right. There may be no better way to improve your health on every level than simple meditation practice. Fascinating findings on the physical effects of meditation continue to emerge from top scientific research institutes, documenting the many ways that meditation practice can heal us, right down to our DNA.
Now, a new study in epigenetics brings even better news: The benefits of meditation can take place almost immediately on a genetic level. The field of epigenetics investigates how different factors such as diet, mind state, environment, toxins, therapies and other influences can cause changes in the behavior (expression) of our genes. In an age where instant gratification is trumping long-term rewards, the findings from this new study may be attractive to people whose busy lifestyles demand immediate solutions. Ironically, it’s these people who may benefit most from meditation’s calming effects, abilities to reduce stress, and cultivation of greater inner peace and mental clarity.
This new study relates in particular to the effects of meditation on genes that control the inflammatory response, pain and cortisol activity. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the study looked at a group of meditators who practiced a day of mindful meditation, compared to a group of people who did other quiet activities. Both groups showed similar gene profiles at the start of the study. After a day of mindful meditation, however, meditators had significant decreases in the expression of genes that regulate inflammation: RIPK2, COX2 and others that control inflammation, pain and cortisol activity. The control group showed no such differences. The meditators also had better recovery from stress tests involving cortisol response.
Previous studies have linked meditation practice with reduced inflammation, but this new research looks at some of the specific mechanisms of action offered by meditation on the molecular level. Stress, cortisol and inflammation are intricately linked; and meditation appears to benefit all of these areas through its effects on our DNA. In fact, a large body of research continues to show that chronic stress may have a profound effect on our genes by shortening DNA telomeres, putting us at a higher risk of cancer and other life-threatening diseases. But meditation is also proving successful in physically repairing this DNA damage.
What Are Telomeres?
Our genes are located on twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes; and at the ends of the chromosomes are strands of DNA called telomeres. Telomeres are essentially the endcaps that protect chromosomes from deterioration and allow cells to replicate properly. Longer telomeres are associated with healthy aging, longevity and DNA integrity. While researchers are already aware that telomeres shorten and fray as we get older, new studies have identified chronic stress, poor diet, environmental assaults and other factors as contributors to their deterioration. Research shows that the shorter your telomeres become, the higher your risks are for developing numerous types of cancer, along with other degenerative conditions and premature aging.
The wear and tear of telomeres cannot be stopped completely, but it can be delayed and even reversed through the activation of an enzyme called telomerase. Telomerase protects the ends of telomeres and keeps them strong and healthy.
But how can you increase this anti-aging enzyme? Research reveals that regular meditation increases telomerase activity by more than 30 percent, providing increased DNA protection and longevity.
Other factors shown to promote telomere integrity include a whole food, nutrient-dense diet. On the other hand, processed meats, pesticide-laden produce and other pro-inflammatory foods can result in shorter telomeres.
Regardless of age, health or other factors, regular meditation practice can benefit us profoundly on all levels, even to the most inner reaches of our cellular DNA. Heart health, cellular health and cognitive function have all shown benefits from regular meditation practice. Increasing numbers of medical practitioners recommend this ancient, time-honored practice. As a result, meditation now holds a well-deserved reputation as a simple, yet powerful and safe, modality for supporting health and preventing illness. It works quickly, and we don’t need published studies to tell us that. You can feel the difference yourself even after just 10 minutes.
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