December 8, 2013
Mindfulness Meditation Found To Result In Gene Expression Changes
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
While there have been multiple scientific studies providing evidence that meditation can have a positive influence on a person’s health, new research appearing in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology suggests there may be an actual biological trigger for these therapeutic effects.Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with colleagues from France and Spain, report they have discovered the first evidence of specific molecular changes that occur in a person’s body following a session of mindfulness meditation.
They compared the effects that an eight-hour mindfulness session had on a group of people experienced with meditation to a control group who participated in quiet, non-meditative activities. They found an array 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” in the meditators.
“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,” study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the university, said in a statement Wednesday.
Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, added the specific changes they observed are actually targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs. Mindfulness-related activities are endorsed by the American Heart Association and have previously been proven effective against inflammatory disorders.
“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,” the university said. “What's more, the extent to which some of those genes were downregulated was associated with faster cortisol recovery to a social stress test… performed in front of an audience and video camera."
The study authors said there was no observed difference in tested genes between the two groups at the beginning of the study – the effects were only noticed after mindfulness practice. Furthermore, there were no differences in multiple other genes that modify DNA, leading the investigators to believe meditation specifically affected certain regulatory pathways.
The university emphasized the research “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.”