A new study suggests that mind-body interventions can reverse a common molecular reaction that causes poor health.
Meditation, tai chi and yoga—we know how good it feels to practice these and other mind-body traditions. We become more relaxed. More focused. We find ourselves becoming better partners, parents and coworkers. A new study, though, shows just how deeply these mind-body interventions (MBIs) truly work.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, suggests that the behavior of our genes can be changed, benefiting both mental and physical health, when MBIs are used. Researchers at the universities of Coventry and Radboud looked at 18 studies, done over 11 years and covering 846 people, and found patterns in how genes activate to produce proteins.
According to this study, people who practice MBIs such as meditation, yoga and tai chi experience a decrease in the production of NF-kB and cytokines. These are proteins that cause inflammation on the cellular level. This inflammatory response the body has was useful to humans in the past, when stress was short lived and the threat of infection ran high. But today, with stress more of a long-term issue, a pro-inflammatory gene response can linger, causing psychiatric problems such as depression, and medical issues such as cancer, say the researchers.
“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,” wrote the study’s lead investigator, Ivana Buric, a Ph.D. student in the Brain, Belief and Behavior Lab at Coventry University.
The researchers say that more will need to be done to understand the effects of MBIs in greater detail. For example, how do the benefits of yoga compare with other healthy interventions like taking up a walking program, or eating fruits and vegetables? “But,” she noted in the journal, “This is an important foundation to build on to help future researchers explore the benefits of increasingly popular mind-body activities.”
The next time you do your practice, take pride knowing you are helping your body stay healthy on the very deepest levels.