Tag Archives: meditation

Study shows gene expression changes with meditation

With evidence growing that meditation can have beneficial health effects, scientists have sought to understand how these practices physically affect the body.

A new study by researchers in Wisconsin, Spain, and France reports the first evidence of specific molecular changes in the body following a period of mindfulness meditation. The study investigated the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,” says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS), where the molecular analyses were conducted.

The study was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Mindfulness-based trainings have shown beneficial effects on inflammatory disorders in prior clinical studies. The new results provide a possible biological mechanism for therapeutic effects.

The results show a down-regulation of genes that have been implicated in inflammation. The affected genes include the pro-inflammatory genes RIPK2 and COX2 as well as several histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes, which regulate the activity of other genes epigenetically by removing a type of chemical tag. What’s more, the extent to which some of those genes were downregulated was associated with faster cortisol recovery to a social stress test involving an impromptu speech and tasks requiring mental calculations performed in front of an audience and video camera.

Perhaps surprisingly, the researchers say, there was no difference in the tested genes between the two groups of people at the start of the study. The observed effects were seen only in the meditators following mindfulness practice. In addition, several other DNA-modifying genes showed no differences between groups, suggesting that the mindfulness practice specifically affected certain regulatory pathways.

However, it is important to note that the study was not designed to distinguish any effects of long-term meditation training from those of a single day of practice. Instead, the key result is that meditators experienced genetic changes following mindfulness practice that were not seen in the non-meditating group after other quiet activities — an outcome providing proof of principle that mindfulness practice can lead to epigenetic alterations of the genome.

Previous studies in rodents and in people have shown dynamic epigenetic responses to physical stimuli such as stress, diet, or exercise within just a few hours.

“Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression,” Davidson says.

“The regulation of HDACs and inflammatory pathways may represent some of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic potential of mindfulness-based interventions,” Kaliman says. “Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions.”

Study funding came from National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (grant number P01-AT004952) and grants from the Fetzer Institute, the John Templeton Foundation, and an anonymous donor to Davidson. The study was conducted at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the UW-Madison Waisman Center.

Journal Reference:

Perla Kaliman, María Jesús Álvarez-López, Marta Cosín-Tomás, Melissa A. Rosenkranz, Antoine Lutz, Richard J. Davidson. Rapid changes in histone deacetylases and inflammatory gene expression in expert meditators.Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2014; 40: 96 DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.11.004

meditation

nature-25Dedicating some time to meditation is a meaningful expression of caring for yourself that can help you move through the mire of feeling unworthy of recovery. As your mind grows quieter and more spacious, you can begin to see self-defeating thought patterns for what they are, and open up to other, more positive options.n Sharon Salzberg

Evidence based Yoga 2

Yoga is a mind and body practice in complementary medicine with origins in ancient Indian philosophy. Part two of evidence based Yoga:

Carpal tunnel syndrome A randomized, single-blind controlled trial of 42 patients with carpal tunnel syndrome assigned subjects to either a yoga treatment group or a wrist splint group, each 8 weeks in duration. Twice a week, the yoga group practiced postures specifically designed to strengthen and stretch each joint in the upper body. Yoga participants showed improvement in grip strength, pain levels, and Phalen’s sign when compared to the wrist splint group. Nerve conduction studies were not performed.15 A Cochrane review of 21 trials that evaluated the clinical outcome of nonsurgical treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome reported that 8 weeks of yoga practice significantly reduced pain as compared to wrist splinting. The yoga was described as having a “significant short-term benefit,” though the duration of this benefit is unknown.16

Depression A 2004 review of five RCTs that evaluated yoga-based interventions for depression and depressive disorders showed some positive outcomes and no adverse effects on patients’ mild to severe depressive disorders. However, poor study design and incomplete methodologic reporting makes this interpretation preliminary.17 An RCT studying 7 weeks of yoga training in a group of breast cancer survivors showed positive changes in emotional function, depression, and mood disturbance.18 “Yoga and stress management” (in the online version of this article) provides more information on this study and others involving the effects of yoga on stress.

Irritable bowel syndrome In an RCT, treatment with loperamide (Imodium) was compared to treatment with a series of 12 yoga postures practiced twice a day for 2 months in a small sample of patients with clinically diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome. Patients underwent measurement of surface electrogastrography, and trait and state anxiety tests were administered before, during, and up to 2 months after treatment. Both intervention groups demonstrated a decrease in bowel symptoms and state anxiety.19

Menopausal symptoms In a recent pilot study, 14 postmenopausal women reported via interview and questionnaire a decrease in the severity and frequency of hot flushes after 8 weeks of 90-minute “restorative yoga” classes. Although this initial finding sounds encouraging, this trial had no control group or objective parameter measurements.20 An RCT studying postmenopausal sleep quality divided 164 women into groups who participated in either 4 months of low-intensity yoga, a moderate-intensity walking program, or a wait-list control group. This study reported no statistically significant interventional effects of any treatment on total sleep quality or on any individual sleep quality domain.21

Multiple sclerosis An RCT of 57 subjects with clinically defined multiple sclerosis were assigned to weekly Iyengar yoga class plus home practice, a cycling program, or a wait-list control group for 6 months. Results showed that both active interventions produced significant improvement in perceived levels of energy and reduced fatigue; however, the specific effects of the yoga practice were not isolated.22 Osteoarthritis In a pilot study, 11 deconditioned, yoga naive subjects with a clinical diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis showed improvements in pain and knee stiffness after 8 weeks of yoga training. The group performed modified Iyengar yoga sessions once a week.23

 

Seizure disorders In 2000, a systematic review of the published literature revealed that only one study was able to meet the selection criteria for reliable research design. The reviewers concluded that no available evidence pointed to yoga therapy as an efficacious treatment for epilepsy.24

Strength and flexibility In a recent study on the fitness related effects of hatha yoga, 10 yoga-naïve and previously untrained subjects aged 18 to 27 years participated in 85 minutes of pranayama and hatha yoga practice twice a week for 8 weeks. These subjects showed significant improvement in upper and lower body muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility. No statistically significant change in body composition or pulmonary function was observed.13
In a partial RCT with a longer time frame, 54 subjects aged 20 to 25 years participated in either 5 months of yoga instruction or no activity. After that time period, both groups practiced yoga for an additional 5 months. The group practicing 10 months of yoga showed significant improvements in shoulder, trunk, hip, and neck flexibility, as well as a reported improved performance during submaximal exercise testing.25
A well-executed study compared subjects who underwent 24 hours of hatha yoga classes over 8 weeks with a control group. The yoga training group showed a 13% to 35% improvement in flexibility, balance, and muscular endurance. The authors concluded that hatha yoga practice has significant effects on balance and flexibility.26

 

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