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.
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.
This is an exciting area of research and explains some of the “miraculous” accomplishments of experienced meditators. However, this level of expertise is reached by only a few individuals and requires almost a lifetime of dedicated practice. I hope the general public doesn’t use this as yet another reason to tell pain patients to just pull themselves together, think better, or just try harder, to be like these meditators. It seems that if some technique allows some individual to achieve pain relief, we are all expected to be able to do it and be “cured” by it.
“Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,”
Mindfulness-based trainings have shown beneficial effects on inflammatory disorders in prior clinical studies
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.
several other DNA-modifying genes showed no differences between groups, suggesting that the mindfulness practice specifically affected certain regulatory pathways.
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.
Another interesting benefit of meditation:
The finding builds on previous research which has found that meditation can help people fight the ‘negativity bias’: people’s natural tendency to focus too much on negative information (see also: The Genetic Predisposition to Focus on the Negative).If this is the kind of improvement that can be seen after just 15 minutes of meditation, just imagine how much consistent, regular meditation can improve thinking and decision-making skills.