Undo disease-causing ‘stress’ damage to your DNA

Did you know that stress damages your DNA? It’s scary but true…

Studies show that stress shortens your telomeres, a part of your chromosomes that’s associated with cellular aging. The shorter your telomeres, the quicker you age and the more likely you are to succumb to diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

For a long time, doctors and researchers thought the DNA damage caused by stress was permanent, irreversible damage. But more and more research shows this just isn’t so…

That’s because there’s something else that has a powerful effect on your DNA and can reverse the cellular damage caused by stress…


But not just any relaxation will do. Watching TV or surfing the web won’t do the trick even though many people find these activities “relaxing.”

True relaxation has a powerful effect on your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), switching off your body’s “flight or fight” response and switching on the relaxation response. Luckily, there’s a simple and enjoyable way to get into a state of true DNA-healing relaxation…

Mind-body therapies repair DNA damage

When you’re stressed out, your body enters a state of “fight or flight” and increases the production of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB). Nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) regulates your gene expression.  More specifically, it encourages your genes to produce cytokines, which promote inflammation in your cells. And you know what happens if you have cellular inflammation — disease and rapid aging (also known as inflammaging).

But a recent study from researchers at Coventry University found that mind-body interventions (MBIs) like yoga, meditation and tai chi can reverse this whole disease-causing process.

In their study, they found that people who practice these therapies produce less NF-kB and cytokines. This reverses the cellular inflammation caused by stress and reduces the risk of inflammation-related diseases.

“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,” said lead investigator Ivana Buric from the Brain, Belief and Behavior Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behavior and Achievement. “Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing,”

Need more evidence on the DNA-healing power of MBIs? Well, a 2013 study discovered just how quickly the right type of relaxation can alter your DNA for the better…

This study found that, within 15 minutes, practices that induce the relaxation response (like yoga, meditation and repetitive prayer) can improve your genetic expression by positively influencing your energy metabolism, insulin secretion and inflammatory pathways. So you’re only 15 minutes away from healthier genes!

Tapping into mind-body magic

Stress is an unavoidable part of life, so if you want to dodge the disease risk that’s associated with it, you better tap into some mind-body magic through mind-body intervention therapies.

You can do this in a lot of ways. You can start a yoga practice, begin meditation, take up tai chi or qigong, start using guided imagery or set up an appointment for a session of biofeedback, acupressure, acupuncture, massage or any number of therapies that trigger the relaxation response. Just make sure you set aside time every day to turn off that “fight or flight” switch and change your genes and disease-risk for the better.

  1. How chronic stress is harming our DNA. — American Psychological Association. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  2. Meditation and yoga can ‘reverse’ DNA reactions which cause stress, new study suggests. — Science Daily. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  3. Buric, et al. “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.
  4. An Easy Way to Beat Stress that Actually Changes Your DNA. — Psychology Today. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  5. K. Bhasin, et al. “Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways.” — PLOS One, 2013.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.