Meditation or Vacation?

Research shows that meditation has a positive effect on your mental health, helping to improve mood and lower stress levels. But a 2016 study has found that the practice may also have quantifiable physical health benefits, too. In fact, when compared with the de-stressing health benefits of a relaxing vacation, meditation’s effects may be even stronger and longer-lasting.

For the study, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School recruited 94 healthy women, aged 30-60 years. Thirty of these women were experienced meditators who had enrolled in a six-day meditation retreat at a resort in California. The remaining 64 women were not regular meditators and half of these women were randomly selected to simply enjoy the vacation, while the other half followed a meditation training program run by the Chopra Center for Well Being. The meditation training involved classes in mantra meditation, yoga and self-reflection, all designed by best-selling author and spiritual guru Dr. Deepak Chopra, although he was not part of the study.

For all three groups, researchers collected blood samples and self-reported wellness surveys immediately before and after the retreat as well as one month and 10 months later. They examined more than 20,000 genes from each participant to understand what biological changes were occurring in the body.

Researchers found that all three groups showed some differences in their molecular makeup after a week at the resort. The most significant changes in their “post-vacation biology” were in molecular pathways related to stress response and immune system function.

Evaluations of the participants’ self-reported wellness surveys found that the women who learned meditation techniques at the retreat reported fewer symptoms of depression and less stress than their non-meditating peers. They also maintained these benefits for a longer period than the women who did not meditate. Studies have shown that these mental health benefits have direct physical health benefits, too, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rate, improved digestion, more physical energy, and a more robust immune system.

“Based on our results, the benefit we experience from meditation isn’t strictly psychological; there is a clear and quantifiable change in how our bodies function,” said study co-author Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, a neurology professor at Harvard University and director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, in a statement.

One thing that wasn’t clear was whether the women who learned to meditate continued to do so after the retreat or if the mental and physical benefits they reported were the direct result of their one week of practice. But either way, the benefits of meditation were evident long after the initial sessions.

Meditation can change your genes

On top of helping to ease stress and symptoms of depression, another study discovered that meditation can even help lower blood pressure.

A 2018 Harvard study analyzed 24 people who suffer from high blood pressure. They attended weakly relaxation sessions with a trainer and listened to a meditation CD at home for eight weeks. The study found that meditating for just 15 minutes day (for at least eight weeks) alters the expression of the genes that regulate inflammation, glucose metabolism, circadian rhythms and immune regulatory pathways.

“With the new guidelines, patients and physicians alike are going to be more and more interested in non-drug therapies that might control blood pressure or potentially augment their medications,” Dr. Randall Zusman told NPR.

In other words, daily meditation can be beneficial for your physical and mental health.

Credit: Jenn Savedge

What is Nutrigeonomics

Nutrigenomics is the “study of how foods affect our genes and how individual genetic differences can affect the way we respond to nutrients (and other naturally occurring compounds) in the foods we eat,” according to NCMHD Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics at University of California, Davis. This new branch of genetic research is getting a lot of attention because of the practical applications of its findings: it may be able to be improve not only the health of the general population, but also the health of individuals based on their personal genetic makeup.

Researchers are working off of these five tenets, according to UC Davis:

~Diet can be a serious risk factor for a number of diseases.
~Common dietary chemicals can alter our gene expression or structure.
~The degree to which diet influences the balance between healthy or not may depend on our genetic makeup.
~Some diet-regulated genes likely play a role in the onset, progression and/or severity of chronic diseases.
~Dietary intervention based on personalized nutrition can be used to prevent, mitigate or cure chronic disease.
~None of these tenets seem crazy. We’ve always been told “you are what you eat.” Now that maxim is getting backed up with science, and the possibilities for improved health via “personalized nutrition” are exciting.
Scientists are looking at areas where changing genes can help with health issues, like lactose intolerance. Researchers have identified the genetic variant responsible for whether or not we can consume fresh dairy without complications. It’s believed this discovery “should now make it possible to design individualized dietary interventions based on a genetic test for lactose intolerance in early childhood.”

Treatments for cancers, diabetes, heart disease and more are being studied through the lens of nutrigenomics, and yes, a solution for weight loss is a goal, too. In fact, a soon-to-launch company called Habit will analyze your DNA and design a diet for you, according to Popular Science.

After eating meals that Habit provides, you’ll prick your finger and send blood samples to be analyzed. That analysis may find your body processes carbohydrates best so the resulting diet would be based around that. Or, it may find you need a diet high in protein and low in carbs and fats. Your metabolism rate is analyzed, too, so calorie needs can be adjusted based on metabolism.

I find nutrigenomics fascinating and the promise of the practical uses of this science very encouraging. I do have to wonder, though, even if we have accurate information about what specific foods are optimal for our individual health, will we change our diets? Going back to my own limited knowledge about how to keep my body at a healthy weight, I know what works, but I frequently don’t do what works. Sometimes my human nature wins out over scientific knowledge. Maybe that’s in my genes, too.

credit: Robin Shreeves

Your sixth sense may be related to a gene

Walking and dancing. Typing on a keyboard or climbing Mount Everest. You use your “sixth sense” — your body’s uncanny ability to sense where it is in space — to perform everything from normal activities to great feats of athleticism.

Scientists have known about this ability, called proprioception, for more than a century, but they weren’t sure how it worked. You might think dancers or athletes would hold the answer, but it was researchers studying a rare genetic disorder who have shined a light on it.

The researchers studied a young girl and a woman who completely lacked this sixth sense. Their unusual set of symptoms included an extreme lack of coordination, difficulty walking, and a lack of sensation when objects were pressed against their skin. They both also have an unusual curvature of the spine, as well as feet, hips and fingers that bend at unusual angles. The results of their study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers learned that both patients didn’t start walking until they were between 6-7 years old and they both had problems learning to feed and dress themselves. Neither patient was able to walk with their eyes closed; they could only take steps if they could see their limbs as they moved.

Genetic analysis revealed a genetic mutation in a gene called PIEZO2, which has been associated with the body’s sense of touch.

One of the researchers, study co-author Alexander Chesler from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, had been studying PIEZO2 in mice for years. But he’d never found a good way to study the gene in people — until now.

Trying to understand proprioception just by experimenting with mice was like trying to understand Beethoven by reading sheet music, Chesler told NPR. “But when I talked to the patients, it was like going to the symphony,” he said.

When researchers began studying these two patients, they were able to demonstrate that the PIEZO2 gene was responsible for proprioception, as well as sensations of touch. They learned much of what it was able to do by studying what the patients were not able to do.

In experiments, the patients were unable to walk blindfolded. They also weren’t able to move a finger from their nose to a targeted point if they were blindfolded. When researchers moved a particular limb for them, if they couldn’t see, they were unable to tell which way the limb was being moved. Once the blindfolds were removed, the patients were able to walk, touch the target and see the direction of their moving limbs.

There’s one other potentially interesting thing researchers may be able to learn from this new discovery: understanding if variations of the PIEZO2 gene contribute to whether a person is klutzy or coordinated.

“Could a finely tuned PIEZO2 gene contribute to superior athletic performance, or a poorly tuned one to clumsiness?” co-author pediatric neurologist Carsten Bönnemann of the National institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke told Science. “I think it’s not impossible.”

What is your real age?

Your biological age could be a better indicator of your health than your true age.
Forget the candles on your birthday cake; there’s a good chance your biological age could be younger — or older — than your chronological age.

Researchers have defined a signature of 150 RNA genes that indicate healthy aging. Using a “healthy age gene score” derived from that data, they are able to calculate whether people are more at risk of age-related disease, such as Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis. These researchers say biological age can differ substantially from true age, and it’s a better indicator of a person’s health.

“We use birth year, or chronological age, to judge everything from insurance premiums to whether you get a medical procedure or not,” said lead author James Timmons from King’s College London in a statement. “Most people accept that all 60 year olds are not the same, but there has been no reliable test for underlying ‘biological age’.”

In the new study, published in the journal Genome Biology, researchers analyzed genetic material from healthy 65-year-olds to discover the genes that showed signs of healthy aging.

The researchers then used this healthy age gene score to follow a group of 70-year-old subjects. Their theory tested out. Those with higher scores had better overall health, including two key indicators of longevity, cognitive function and kidney function.

Specifically, they found that people with Alzheimer’s disease had lower gene scores.

“This is the first blood test of its kind that has shown that the same set of molecules are regulated in both the blood and the brain regions associated with dementia, and it can help contribute to a dementia diagnosis,” said Timmons. “This also provides strong evidence that dementia in humans could be called a type of ‘accelerated ageing’ or ‘failure to activate the healthy ageing program’.”

Because early intervention is so critical with Alzheimer’s, researchers say this healthy age gene score can be used to help decide which patients are entered into preventive clinical trials long before clinical symptoms appear.

Assuming the study results hold up, having a diagnostic tool to determine Alzheimer’s risk would be tremendously useful, said Eric Topol, a cardiologist/geneticist at Scripps Health, in an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune.

“They took a pretty systematic approach, but it’s going to require considerably more work,” Topol said. “It’s more in the discovery phase and they have to validate it … What they’re hunting for is a worthy hunt; whether they have it, it’s still very preliminary.”

By: Mary Jo DiLonardo

 

Meditation helps alleviate gut symptoms by altering genetic signals

If you thought meditation was only good for your emotional well-being, think again. A new study shows that meditation may actually alleviate the symptoms of two gut disorders by altering certain genetic signals.

The study looked at people who had either irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or irritable bowel disease (IBD). It found that doing yoga and meditating regularly for two months eased the symptoms associated with the two gut disorders, the researchers said.

This mind-and-body intervention seemed to work by inducing genetic changes in the body, the study authors said. The findings suggest that stress-relieving meditation can suppress the activities of certain genes responsible for causing inflammation and other immune system problems in patients suffering from IBS or IBD, the study stated.

Previous research has shown that meditation can change people’s gene expression in some ways, but the new study is among the first to show an impact on gene expression in patients with a specific disease, said lead researcher Dr. Braden Kuo, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The study used a mind-body technique called Relaxation Response, which a Harvard University doctor developed in the 1970s.

The new findings are especially interesting given that researchers have established a relationship between stress and digestive problems. Research has shown that psychological trauma can contribute to IBS, a disorder that leads to abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.

The condition is fairly common in the United States, affecting about 1 in every 10 people at some point in their lives, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. Yet scientists do not exactly know what causes the disorder. [7 Biggest Mysteries of the Human Body]

Although IBS and IBD can be mistaken as the same condition, they are actually very different, and IBD is much less common. Unlike IBS, IBD involves chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The two main types of IBD are ulcerative colitis, which affects the colon, and Crohn’s disease, which mostly affects the intestines, but can also occur anywhere in the digestive system.

However, IBS and IBD also share some common factors: Both can be triggered by stress, and neither one has real treatment options. The drugs currently available can only lessen the severity of symptoms and bring some temporary relief.

In the new study, researchers enrolled 19 patients with IBS and 29 patients with IBD. They all underwent a nine-week program that included breathing exercises, meditation and yoga. The patients met for a 1.5-hour group session every week, and practiced the activities at home for 15 to 20 minutes every day. The researchers assessed the patients’ symptoms before, after and midway during the study, and took blood samples for genetic analyses. However, the study design did not incorporate a separate control group of patients who did not practice meditation.

At the end of the study, the patients reported a reduction in their symptoms compared with what they experienced at the study’s start. A genetic analysis of their blood provided evidence of changes in genetic pathways related to the two disorders.

Significantly, more genetic changes were observed in IBD patients than in patients with IBS, said Manoj Bhasin, who co-authored the study and is the director of bioinformatics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Researchers found that more than 1,000 genes were altered in IBD patients over the study period, whereas only 119 genes changed in the people with IBS.

There was one inflammation-related gene, called NF-kB, whose activities were suppressed in both groups, according to the study. This indicates that meditation and similar practices can offset stress and inflammation, the researchers said.

“In both IBS and IBD, the pathway controlled by a protein called NF-kB emerged as one of those most significantly affected by the relaxation response,” Dr. Towia Libermann, a senior researcher in the study and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a statement. It’s possible that relaxation techniques could help both people with IBS and those with IBD, he said.

The researchers noted two important limitations in their study: First, two tests that measured certain markers of inflammation in the blood showed no changes over the study period. Second, previous research has shown that even a placebo can sometimes produce adequate relief of IBS symptoms.

More studies, such as randomized trials that include a control group, are needed before a program of meditation and yoga could be suggested as a treatment for patients with these disorders, the researchers said.

The study was published on April 30 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Read more: http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/at-one-with-the-belly-meditation-may-ease-gut-ailments#ixzz3fA79EBoi

Scientists Finally Show How Your Thoughts Can Cause Specific Molecular Changes To Your Genes

With evidence growing that training the mind or inducing certain modes of consciousness can have positive health effects, researchers 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 intensive mindfulness practice.

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 and are endorsed by the American Heart Association as a preventative intervention. The new results provide a possible biological mechanism for therapeutic effects.

Gene Activity Can Change According To Perception

According to Dr. Bruce Lipton, gene activity can change on a daily basis. If the perception in your mind is reflected in the chemistry of your body, and if your nervous system reads and interprets the environment and then controls the blood’s chemistry, then you can literally change the fate of your cells by altering your thoughts.

In fact, Dr. Lipton’s research illustrates that by changing your perception, your mind can alter the activity of your genes and create over thirty thousand variations of products from each gene. He gives more detail by saying that the gene programs are contained within the nucleus of the cell, and you can rewrite those genetic programs through changing your blood chemistry.

In the simplest terms, this means that we need to change the way we think if we are to heal cancer. “The function of the mind is to create coherence between our beliefs and the reality we experience,” Dr. Lipton said. “What that means is that your mind will adjust the body’s biology and behavior to fit with your beliefs. If you’ve been told you’ll die in six months and your mind believes it, you most likely will die in six months. That’s called the nocebo effect, the result of a negative thought, which is the opposite of the placebo effect, where healing is mediated by a positive thought.”

That dynamic points to a three-party system: there’s the part of you that swears it doesn’t want to die (the conscious mind), trumped by the part that believes you will (the doctor’s prognosis mediated by the subconscious mind), which then throws into gear the chemical reaction (mediated by the brain’s chemistry) to make sure the body conforms to the dominant belief. (Neuroscience has recognized that the subconscious controls 95 percent of our lives.)

Now what about the part that doesn’t want to die–the conscious mind? Isn’t it impacting the body’s chemistry as well? Dr. Lipton said that it comes down to how the subconscious mind, which contains our deepest beliefs, has been programmed. It is these beliefs that ultimately cast the deciding vote.

“It’s a complex situation,” said Dr. Lipton. People have been programmed to believe that they’re victims and that they have no control. We’re programmed from the start with our mother and father’s beliefs. So, for instance, when we got sick, we were told by our parents that we had to go to the doctor because the doctor is the authority concerning our health. We all got the message throughout childhood that doctors were the authority on health and that we were victims of bodily forces beyond our ability to control. The joke, however, is that people often get better while on the way to the doctor. That’s when the innate ability for self-healing kicks in, another example of the placebo effect.

Mindfulness Practice Specifically Affects Regulatory Pathways

The results of Davidson’s study 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.

Biologists have suspected for years that some kind of epigenetic inheritance occurs at the cellular level. The different kinds of cells in our bodies provide an example. Skin cells and brain cells have different forms and functions, despite having exactly the same DNA. There must be mechanisms–other than DNA–that make sure skin cells stay skin cells when they divide.

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.

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.”

Subconscious Beliefs Are Key

Too many positive thinkers know that thinking good thoughts–and reciting affirmations for hours on end–doesn’t always bring about the results that feel-good books promise.

Dr. Lipton didn’t argue this point, because positive thoughts come from the conscious mind, while contradictory negative thoughts are usually programmed in the more powerful subconscious mind.

“The major problem is that people are aware of their conscious beliefs and behaviors, but not of subconscious beliefs and behaviors. Most people don’t even acknowledge that their subconscious mind is at play, when the fact is that the subconscious mind is a million times more powerful than the conscious mind and that we operate 95 to 99 percent of our lives from subconscious programs.

“Your subconscious beliefs are working either for you or against you, but the truth is that you are not controlling your life, because your subconscious mind supersedes all conscious control. So when you are trying to heal from a conscious level–citing affirmations and telling yourself you’re healthy–there may be an invisible subconscious program that’s sabotaging you.”

The power of the subconscious mind is elegantly revealed in people expressing multiple personalities. While occupying the mind-set of one personality, the individual may be severely allergic to strawberries. Then, in experiencing the mind-set of another personality, he or she eats them without consequence.

The new science of epigenetics promises that every person on the planet has the opportunity to become who they really are, complete with unimaginable power and the ability to operate from, and go for, the highest possibilities, including healing our bodies and our culture and living in peace.

Article sources:
wisc.edu
brucelipton.com
ts-si.org