Mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, the relaxation response, and breath regulation were studied by researchers in Coventry University in England and Radboud University in the Netherlands. They looked at published studies that examined changes in gene expression in MBIs and explored how these changes are related to health. They found and analyzed 18 relevant studies , including 848 participants, publishing their findings in Frontiers in Immunology, June, 2017.
Overall, the studies indicated that MBI practices are associated with a pattern in the molecular changes that happen in the body, and how these changes may benefit our mental and physical health. Research on stress and inflammation has looked at nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB), which is produced when stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (fright/flight/fight). NF-kB translates stress into inflammation. Lower activity of NF-kB suggests reduced inflammation.
While acute inflammation is a short-lived adaptive response that enables the immune system to fight injury or infections, chronic inflammation is maladaptive because it persists when there is no actual threat to the body. According to the study, it is associated with increased risk for some types of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, and psychiatric disorders such as depression and posttraumatic stress.
The study found that people who practice MBIs have been found to have a decrease in the production of pro-inflammatory gene expression. The authors caution that the studies they looked at did not have control groups and measured the MBI interventions for varying amounts of time. More exacting research is needed.
However, the researchers were encouraged by the results they found. Lead investigator Ivana Buric from the Brain, Belief and Behavior Lab at Coventry University said “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. These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on our 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 healthy interventions like exercise or nutrition. But this is an important foundation to build on to help future researchers explore the benefits of increasingly poplar mind-body activities.”
Here is West Marin we are fortunate to have great classes in yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong and meditation. I have found a computer class called Mindfulness Daily with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach from Soundstrue, which is helping me. There’s something for everyone.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH