Improve a Biological Marker of Aging, Telomeres, with Meditation

Improve a Biological Marker of Aging, Telomeres, with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“While we might expect our bodies and brains to follow a shared trajectory of development and degeneration over time, by actively practicing strategies such as meditation, we might actually preserve and protect our physical body and brain structure to extend our golden years and shine even more brightly in old age.” – Sonima Wellness

 

One of the most exciting findings in molecular biology in recent years was the discovery of the telomere. This is a component of the DNA molecule that is attached to the ends of the strands. Recent genetic research has suggested that the telomere and its regulation is the biological mechanism that produces aging. As we age the tail of the DNA molecule called the telomere shortens. When it gets very short cells have a more and more difficult time reproducing and become more likely to produce defective cells. On a cellular basis, this is what produces aging. As we get older the new cells produced are more and more likely to be defective. The shortening of the telomere occurs each time the cell is replaced. So, slowly as we age it gets shorter and shorter.

 

Fortunately, there is a mechanism to protect the telomere. There is an enzyme in the body called telomerase that helps to prevent shortening of the telomere. It also promotes cell survival and enhances stress-resistance.  Research suggests that processes that increase telomerase activity tend to slow the aging process by protecting the telomere.  One activity that seems to increase telomerase activity and protect telomere length is mindfulness practice. Hence, engaging in mindfulness practices may protect the telomere and thereby slow the aging process.

 

In today’s Research News article “Telomere length correlates with subtelomeric DNA methylation in long-term mindfulness practitioners.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7067861/), and Mendioroz colleagues recruited long-term meditators (greater than 10 years of experience) and non-meditators matched for gender, ethnic group, and age. They were measured for mindfulness, anxiety, depression, resilience, happiness, self-compassion, experiential avoidance, and quality of life. They also provided blood samples that were assayed for telomere length and DNA methylation.

 

They found that the long-term meditators were significantly higher in for mindfulness, resilience, happiness, self-compassion, and quality of life and significantly lower in for anxiety, depression, and experiential avoidance.

 

They also found that the meditators had significantly longer telomeres than the matched controls. Interestingly, while in the controls the greater the age of the participant the shorter the telomeres, in the long-term meditators, telomere length was the same regardless of age. In addition, they found that in the long-term meditators, telomere length was significantly associated with DNA methylation at specific regions but not for the matched controls.

 

This study found, as have others, that long-term meditation practice is associated with longer telomeres. The fact, that the telomere length was not associated with age in the meditators suggests that meditation practice may protect the individual from age-related erosion of telomeres. The results further suggest that meditation may do so through specific methylation of DNA. Stress has been shown to results in shortening the telomeres. Hence, a potential mechanism whereby meditation may protect telomeres may be by reducing the physiological and psychological responses to stress.

 

It is suspected, but not proven, that telomere length is related to health and well-being. The findings that the long-term meditators had significantly better mental health tends to support this notion. There is evidence that meditation practice increases longevity. It can be speculated that meditation practice may do so by affecting molecular genetic mechanisms that prevent the degradation of the telomeres with age.

 

So, improve a biological marker of aging, telomeres, with meditation.

 

Meditation also helps to protect our telomeres, the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes. Telomeres are longest when we’re young and naturally shorten as we age. Shorter telomeres are associated with stress and higher risk for many diseases including cancer, and depend on the telomerase enzyme to enable them to rebuild and repair.”- Paula Watkins

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Mendioroz, M., Puebla-Guedea, M., Montero-Marín, J., Urdánoz-Casado, A., Blanco-Luquin, I., Roldán, M., Labarga, A., & García-Campayo, J. (2020). Telomere length correlates with subtelomeric DNA methylation in long-term mindfulness practitioners. Scientific reports, 10(1), 4564. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-61241-6

 

Abstract

Mindfulness and meditation techniques have proven successful for the reduction of stress and improvement in general health. In addition, meditation is linked to longevity and longer telomere length, a proposed biomarker of human aging. Interestingly, DNA methylation changes have been described at specific subtelomeric regions in long-term meditators compared to controls. However, the molecular basis underlying these beneficial effects of meditation on human health still remains unclear. Here we show that DNA methylation levels, measured by the Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip (Illumina) array, at specific subtelomeric regions containing GPR31 and SERPINB9 genes were associated with telomere length in long-term meditators with a strong statistical trend when correcting for multiple testing. Notably, age showed no association with telomere length in the group of long-term meditators. These results may suggest that long-term meditation could be related to epigenetic mechanisms, in particular gene-specific DNA methylation changes at distinct subtelomeric regions.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7067861/

 

Increase Telomere Length and Decrease Cellular Aging with Meditation

Increase Telomere Length and Decrease Cellular Aging with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

some forms of meditation may have salutary effects on telomere length by reducing cognitive stress and stress arousal and increasing positive states of mind and hormonal factors that may promote telomere maintenance.” – Elissa Epel

 

One of the most exciting findings in molecular biology in recent years was the discovery of the telomere. This is a component of the DNA molecule that is attached to the ends of the strands. Recent genetic research has suggested that the telomere and its regulation is the biological mechanism that produces aging. It has been found that the genes, coded on the DNA molecule, govern cellular processes in our bodies. One of the most fundamental of these processes is cell replication. Cells are constantly turning over. Dying cells or damaged are replaced by new cells. The cells turn over at different rates but most cells in the body are lost and replaced between every few days to every few months. Needless to say, we’re constantly renewing ourselves.

 

As we age the tail of the DNA molecule called the telomere shortens. When it gets very short cells have a more and more difficult time reproducing and become more likely to produce defective cells. On a cellular basis, this is what produces aging. As we get older the new cells produced are more and more likely to be defective. The shortening of the telomere occurs each time the cell is replaced. So, slowly as we age it gets shorter and shorter. This has been called a “mitotic clock.” This is normal. But telomere shortening can also be produced by oxidative stress, which can be produced by psychological and physiological stress. This is mediated by stress hormones and the inflammatory response. So, chronic stress can accelerate the aging process. In other words, when we’re chronically stressed, we get older faster.

 

Fortunately, there is a mechanism to protect the telomere. There is an enzyme in the body called telomerase that helps to prevent shortening of the telomere. It also promotes cell survival and enhances stress-resistance.  Research suggests that processes that increase telomerase activity tend to slow the aging process by protecting the telomere.  One activity that seems to increase telomerase activity and protect telomere length is mindfulness practice. Hence, engaging in mindfulness practices may protect the telomere and thereby slow the aging process. There is accumulating evidence, so it makes sense to stop and summarize what has been learned.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation and telomere length: a meta-analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://doi.org/10.1080/08870446.2019.1707827 ), Schutte and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a meta-analysis on the effects of meditation practice on cellular aging as reflected in telomere lengths. They identified 12 controlled published research studies.

 

They found that the published research demonstrated that meditation practices produce longer telomere lengths. The effect sizes were moderate and indicated that the meditation practitioners had telomeres about a half of a standard deviation longer then controls. They also report that the greater the number of hours of meditation practice the longer the telomeres, but this relationship was not significant in studies where there was a random assignment of participants to groups.

 

These are exciting findings that suggest that meditation practice can lead to greater telomere length. This in turn suggests that meditation would improve health and longevity. It is suspected that meditation has these benefits as the result of the ability of meditation practice to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress, where stress is known to have a shortening effect on the telomeres. Regardless of the mechanism, the accumulating research suggests that meditation can reduce cellular aging and thereby improve health and longevity.

 

Increase telomere length and decrease cellular aging with meditation.

 

meditation and the like, which people can use to reduce stress and increase wellbeing, would be having their salutary and well-documented useful effects in part through telomeres.” – Elizabeth Blackburn

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Nicola S. Schutte, John M. Malouff & Shian-Ling Keng (2020): Meditation and telomere length: a meta-analysis, Psychology & Health, DOI: 10.1080/08870446.2019.1707827

 

ABSTRACT Objective: Telomeres are the caps at the end of chromosomes. Short telomeres are a biomarker for worsening health and early death. Design: The present study consolidated research on meditation and telomere length through a meta-analysis of results of studies examining the effect of meditation on telomere length by comparing the telomere length of meditating participants with participants in control conditions. Results: A search of the literature identified 11 studies reporting 12 comparisons of meditating individuals with individuals in control conditions. An overall significant weighted effect size of g ¼.40 indicated that the individuals in meditation conditions had longer telomeres. When an outlier effect size was trimmed from the analysis, the effect size was smaller, g ¼.16. Across studies, a greater number of hours of meditation among participants in meditation conditions was associated with larger effect sizes. Conclusion: These findings provide tentative support for the hypothesis that participants in meditation conditions have longer telomeres than participants in comparison conditions, and that a greater number of hours of meditation is associated with a greater impact on telomere biology. The results of the meta-analysis have potential clinical significance in that they suggest that meditation-based interventions may prevent telomere attrition or increase telomere length.

https://doi.org/10.1080/08870446.2019.1707827

 

Improve Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with Yoga Practice

Improve Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with Yoga Practice

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Turns out, in addition to improving sleep quality, relieving stress and anxiety and improving overall physical health, yoga can also be an excellent natural energy-booster.” – Carolyn Gregoire

 

Myalgic encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) occurs in about 0.2% of the population. It produces a profound, prolonged, and debilitating tiredness that is not corrected by rest. When severe, it can produce a chronic and extreme tiredness, so severe that sufferers can become bed-bound or need to use a wheel-chair. It produces muscle pain, brain fog and dizziness, poor memory, disturbed sleep and trouble with digestion.

 

Unfortunately, there are no known cures for CFS. The usual treatments for fatigue are targeted at symptom relief and include exercise and drugs. As an alternative to these traditional treatments, mindfulness training has been shown to reduce fatigue. The mindfulness practice of Yoga also includes exercise and it has been shown to be an effective treatment for the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). But the mechanism is not known of how yoga may be affecting the symptoms of CFS.

 

In today’s Research News article “Changes in circulating microRNA after recumbent isometric yoga practice by patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: an explorative pilot study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6886179/), Takakura and colleagues recruited female Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) who had not progressed over 6 months with standard treatment and were not able to work or carry on normal activities. They were provided 3 months of recumbent isometric yoga practice every 2 to 4 weeks and practiced at home daily. Before and after the yoga intervention the women had blood drawn and assayed for micro-ribonucleic acids (miRNAs) expressions. They also completed a measure of fatigue.

 

They found that although the patients had shown no improvement in fatigue levels over the 6-month pre-intervention period, after the recumbent isometric yoga practice there were significant reductions in fatigue. The blood assays revealed that after treatment 4 miRNAs levels were significantly higher and 42 were significantly lower.

 

Micro-ribonucleic acid (miRNAs) contribute to gene silencing. Circulating miRNAs have been proposed as biomarkers for some medical conditions. Because the blood levels of these miRNAs are changed by isometric yoga practice at the same time that fatigue levels decrease suggests that these miRNAs may be involved in or a marker for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

 

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) has no known causes and no effective treatments have been discovered. It is encouraging that yoga practice can help with this debilitating condition. In addition, the study provides an interesting possibility of miRNA changes in the blood that may be biomarkers for the disease. Further investigating these leads may lead to a better understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying CFS.

 

So, improve chronic fatigue syndrome with yoga practice.

 

Many believe that yoga is a powerful treatment for fatigue as it combines the tools of yoga postures, breathing techniques, and meditation that helps clear the brain fog and body fatigue.” – Rishikul Yogshala

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Takakura, S., Oka, T., & Sudo, N. (2019). Changes in circulating microRNA after recumbent isometric yoga practice by patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: an explorative pilot study. BioPsychoSocial medicine, 13, 29. doi:10.1186/s13030-019-0171-2

 

Abstract

Background

Yoga is a representative mind-body therapy. Our previous studies have demonstrated that isometric yoga (i.e. yoga programs that we developed so individuals can practice yoga poses with a self-adjustable isometric load) reduces the fatigue of patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS); however, the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Several studies have suggested that the micro-ribonucleic acid (miRNA) expression of ME/CFS patients is different from that of healthy subjects. However, it has not to date been determined if the practice of isometric yoga can affect miRNA expression. Therefore, we sought to investigate if isometric yoga is associated with changes in the expression levels of serum miRNA of patients with ME/CFS.

Methods

The study included nine patients with ME/CFS who failed to show satisfactory improvement after at least 6 months of treatment administered at our hospital. Patients practiced recumbent isometric yoga for 3 months; they met with a yoga instructor every 2 to 4 weeks and participated in daily in-home sessions. The effect of recumbent isometric yoga on fatigue was assessed by comparing pre- and post-intervention scores on the Japanese version of the 11-item Chalder fatigue scale (CFQ 11). Patient blood samples were drawn pre- and post-intervention, just prior to practicing recumbent isometric yoga with an instructor. The serum was used for miRNA array analysis with known human miRNAs.

Results

The average CFQ 11 score decreased significantly (from 25.3 ± 5.5 to 17.0 ± 5.8, p <  0.0001) after practicing recumbent isometric yoga for 3 months. The miRNA microarray analysis revealed that four miRNAs were significantly upregulated, and 42 were downregulated after the intervention period.

Conclusions

This explorative pilot study is the first to demonstrate changes in the serum levels of several miRNAs after regular practice of recumbent isometric yoga. These miRNAs might represent biomarkers for the fatigue-relieving effects of isometric yoga of patients with ME/CFS.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6886179/

 

Slow Cellular Aging with Mindfulness

Slow Cellular Aging with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

those with more years of meditation practice had longer telomere length overall, and that women meditators had significantly longer telomeres as compared to women non-meditators. These findings further support meditation’s positive effect on healthy cellular aging.” – Sonima Wellness

 

One of the most exciting findings in molecular biology in recent years was the discovery of the telomere. This is a component of the DNA molecule that is attached to the ends of the strands. Recent genetic research has suggested that the telomere and its regulation is the biological mechanism that produces aging. It has been found that the genes, coded on the DNA molecule, govern cellular processes in our bodies. One of the most fundamental of these processes is cell replication. Cells are constantly turning over. Dying cells or damaged are replaced by new cells. The cells turn over at different rates but most cells in the body are lost and replaced between every few days to every few months. Needless to say, we’re constantly renewing ourselves.

 

As we age the tail of the DNA molecule called the telomere shortens. When it gets very short cells have a more and more difficult time reproducing and become more likely to produce defective cells. On a cellular basis, this is what produces aging. As we get older the new cells produced are more and more likely to be defective. The shortening of the telomere occurs each time the cell is replaced. So, slowly as we age it gets shorter and shorter. This has been called a “mitotic clock.” This is normal. But telomere shortening can also be produced by oxidative stress, which can be produced by psychological and physiological stress. This is mediated by stress hormones and the inflammatory response. So, chronic stress can accelerate the aging process. In other words, when we’re chronically stressed, we get older faster.

 

Fortunately, there is a mechanism to protect the telomere. There is an enzyme in the body called telomerase that helps to prevent shortening of the telomere. It also promotes cell survival and enhances stress-resistance.  Research suggests that processes that increase telomerase activity tend to slow the aging process by protecting the telomere.  One activity that seems to increase telomerase activity and protect telomere length is mindfulness practice. Hence, engaging in mindfulness practices may protect the telomere and thereby slow the aging process.

 

In today’s Research News article “Association among dispositional mindfulness, self-compassion, and leukocyte telomere length in Chinese adults.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6647116/), Keng and colleagues recruited adults, aged 18 to 55 years of age, with no regular meditation or mindfulness practice. Blood samples were drawn and leukocyte telomere length measured. In addition, they were measured for mindfulness, self-compassion, anxiety, depression, and stress.

 

They found that, as expected, the older the participant the shorter the telomere length and the higher the levels of perceived stress, the shorter the telomere length. When controlling for age they found that the higher the levels of overall mindfulness and the nonreactivity facet of mindfulness the longer the length of the telomeres. Also, when controlling for age the higher the levels of overall self-compassion and the common humanity and de-identification from one’s thoughts and emotions facets of self-compassion the longer the length of the telomeres.

 

It needs to be kept in mind that these results are correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. However, previous research has demonstrated a causal link by training mindfulness and finding increased telomere lengths. This suggests that the present associations were due to a causal connection between mindfulness and telomere length.

 

In addition, these were young and middle-aged adults who did not display high levels of mindfulness, stress or psychological distress. Mindfulness is thought to affect telomere length as a result of reducing stress which is responsible for shortening the telomers. So, only mild association would be expected. Clearer larger association may require older more distressed participants. The fact that it was the nonreactivity facet of mindfulness that was most strongly associated with longer telomeres supports the contention that stress reduction is the critical effect of mindfulness. By reducing the reaction to events, stress is lowered which, in turn, decreases cellular aging.

 

These results suggest that mindfulness, particularly the nonreactivity facet of mindfulness and self-compassion common humanity and de-identification from one’s thoughts and emotions facets of self-compassion reduces cellular aging. Mindfulness increases self-compassion. So, although not tested here, mindfulness may decrease cellular aging both directly and indirectly via self-compassion. By protecting the telomeres from shortening and mindfulness reduces cellular aging. In this way mindfulness may lead to happier and longer lives.

 

So, slow cellular aging with mindfulness.

 

one of the most effective interventions, apparently capable of slowing the erosion of telomeres – and perhaps even lengthening them again – is meditation.” – Jo Marchant

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Keng, S. L., Yim, O. S., Lai, P. S., Chew, S. H., & Ebstein, R. P. (2019). Association among dispositional mindfulness, self-compassion, and leukocyte telomere length in Chinese adults. BMC psychology, 7(1), 47. doi:10.1186/s40359-019-0323-y

 

Abstract

Background

Whereas meditation training has been purported to support slower cellular aging, little work has explored the association among different facets of dispositional mindfulness, self-compassion, and cellular aging. The present study aimed to examine the relationship between leukocyte telomere length (LTL), an index of cellular aging, dispositional mindfulness, and self-compassion in a sample of Singaporean Chinese adults.

Methods

One hundred and fifty-eight Chinese adults (mean age = 27.24 years; 63.3% female) were recruited from the community and completed self-report measures assessing dispositional mindfulness, self-compassion, and psychological symptoms, as well as provided blood samples for analyses of LTL. Multiple regression analyses were conducted to examine the role of trait mindfulness and self-compassion in predicting LTL, taking into consideration potential covariates such as chronological age and psychological symptoms.

Results

Results showed that nonreactivity, one of the five facets of dispositional mindfulness, was significantly associated with LTL, after controlling for chronological age. There was also a trend for dispositional mindfulness, self-compassion, and their selected facets (i.e., nonjudging, common humanity, and de-identification) to each be associated with longer LTL.

Conclusions

Overall, the findings provide preliminary support for the association among aspects of dispositional mindfulness, self-compassion, and aging. In particular, individuals high on nonreactivity experience slower aging at the cellular level, likely through engaging in more adaptive coping mechanisms.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6647116/

 

Mindfulness and Its Relationships to Attention Deficit Traits are Inherited

Mindfulness and Its Relationships to Attention Deficit Traits are Inherited

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

heritability of trait mindfulness to be about 32% – meaning that while genetics has a substantial effect on one’s level of mindfulness, environmental factors are approximately twice as important in determining one’s level of mindfulness. They also found that some of the same genetic influences associated with depression and anxiety – are also associated with low levels of mindfulness.” – Matthew Brensilver

 

There are large differences between people in both their physical and psychological characteristics, including their levels of mindfulness, activity levels, anxiety, depression, and tendencies for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some of the differences are the result of environmental influences. But many people still differ considerably even though they have lived in similar environments and had similar experiences. In addition, many of these characteristics seem to be present right at birth. These facts support the notion that both the genes and the environment determine human characteristics.

 

Indeed, there is evidence that our level of mindfulness is in part inherited and transmitted with the genes but is also affected by the environment. It has also been shown that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are to some extent is inherited in addition to environmental origins. This taken together with the fact that mindfulness training is an effective treatment for ADHD raises the question of to what extent are the genes and environment underlying mindfulness also related to the genes and environment underlying ADHD.

 

In today’s Research News article “Genetic and environmental aetiologies of associations between dispositional mindfulness and ADHD traits: a population-based twin study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6751144/), Siebelink and colleagues analyzed data from the UK Twins Early Development Study on dispositional mindfulness, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) traits of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity, and life satisfaction. The genetic and environmental contributions to these variables and their interactions was assessed with twin method computations of the data obtained when the twins were 16 years of age.

 

They found moderate heritability (proportion of the variance accounted for by genetic similarity) for mindfulness (35%) and strong heritability for inattention (61%) and hyperactivity/impulsivity (65%). The environment shared by the twins only accounted 0% of the variance in mindfulness, 18% for inattention, and 22% for hyperactivity/impulsivity. The remainder of the variance was accounted for by unique (non-shared) environmental factors.

There were weak negative correlations between mindfulness and the ADHD traits of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity with the higher the levels of mindfulness the lower the levels of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. These correlations were found to have small degrees of heritability; 14% for inattention and 4% for hyperactivity/impulsivity.

 

These results suggest that the inheritance plays a significant role in determining the mindfulness and the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) traits of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity and the familial (shared) environment a lesser role. In other words, genes and not how the twins were brought up primarily affected their mindfulness and ADHD traits. Interestingly, the small relationships between mindfulness and the ADHD traits were also to a small degree due to inheritance. So, not only the traits but also their relationship was affected by inheritance.

 

The genes appear to have ubiquitous influences on the individual’s nature including how mindful the individual is and whether the individual has tendencies toward Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and even the degree to which mindfulness is associated with lower levels of ADHD traits. This suggests that mindfulness training may have different degrees of benefit for ADHD symptoms depending upon the inheritance of the individual.

 

So, mindfulness and its relationships to attention deficit traits are inherited.

 

“genetic correlations between the lack of dispositional mindfulness and ADHD trait measures were modest and environmental correlations non-significant.” – Nienke Siebelink

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Siebelink, N. M., Asherson, P., Antonova, E., Bögels, S. M., Speckens, A. E., Buitelaar, J. K., & Greven, C. U. (2019). Genetic and environmental aetiologies of associations between dispositional mindfulness and ADHD traits: a population-based twin study. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 28(9), 1241–1251. doi:10.1007/s00787-019-01279-8

 

Abstract

To get additional insight into the phenotype of attentional problems, we examined to what extent genetic and environmental factors explain covariation between lack of dispositional mindfulness and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) traits in youth, and explored the incremental validity of these constructs in predicting life satisfaction. We used data from a UK population-representative sample of adolescent twins (N = 1092 pairs) on lack of dispositional mindfulness [Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS)], ADHD traits [Conners’ Parent Rating Scale-Revised (CPRS-R): inattentive (INATT) and hyperactivity/impulsivity (HYP/IMP) symptom dimensions] and life satisfaction (Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale). Twin model fitting analyses were conducted. Phenotypic correlations (rp) between MAAS and CPRS-R (INATT: rp = 0.18, HYP/IMP: rp = 0.13) were small, but significant and largely explained by shared genes for INATT (% rp INATT–MAAS due to genes: 93%, genetic correlation rA = 0.37) and HYP/IMP (% rp HYP/IMP–MAAS due to genes: 81%; genetic correlation rA = 0.21) with no significant contribution of environmental factors. MAAS, INATT and HYP/IMP significantly and independently predicted life satisfaction. Lack of dispositional mindfulness, assessed as self-reported perceived lapses of attention (MAAS), taps into an aspect of attentional functioning that is phenotypically and genetically distinct from parent-rated ADHD traits. The clinically relevant incremental validity of both scales implicates that MAAS could be used to explore the underlying mechanisms of an aspect of attentional functioning that uniquely affects life satisfaction and is not captured by DSM-based ADHD scales. Further future research could identify if lack of dispositional mindfulness and high ADHD traits can be targeted by different therapeutic approaches resulting in different effects on life satisfaction.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6751144/

 

Improve the Psychological Health of Mothers of Children With Fragile X Syndrome with Mindfulness

Improve the Psychological Health of Mothers of Children With Fragile X Syndrome with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“the key to reducing caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue lies in what can be construed to some as the seemingly counter intuitive wisdom of mindfulness. Being mindful and engaging in radical self-care is proving to be one of the most effective ways to take care of your loved one while fortifying yourself.” – Audrey Meinertzhagen

 

Fragile X Syndrome is an incurable genetic disorder that involves the FMR1 gene on the X Chromosome. This gene is involved in promotion communications between neurons in the nervous system. This disorder affects about 200,000 children a year in the US and is characterized by trouble learning skills like sitting, crawling, or walking, problems with language and speech, hand-flapping and not making eye contact, temper tantrums, poor impulse control, anxiety, extreme sensitivity to light or sound, and hyperactivity and trouble paying attention. Some children with fragile X also have changes to their face and body that can include a large head, long, narrow face, large ears, a large forehead and chin, loose joints, and flat feet.

 

Needless to say, raising these children can be a challenge and place considerable stress on the caregivers. Caregiving exacts a tremendous toll on caregivers’ health and well-being. Caregiving has been associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety as well as higher use of psychoactive medications, poorer self-reported physical health, compromised immune function, and increased mortality. The challenges of caring for a child with Fragile X Syndrome requires that the individual be able to deal with stress, to regulate their own emotions, and to be sensitive and attentive. These skills are exactly those that are developed in mindfulness training. It improves the psychological and physiological responses to stress. It improves emotion regulation. And it improves the ability to maintain attention and focus in the face of high levels of distraction. So, it is not surprising that mindfulness improves caregiving and assists the caregiver in coping with the stress.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and Acceptance as Potential Protective Factors for Mothers of Children With Fragile X Syndrome.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6232517/ ), Wheeler and colleagues administered an online survey to mothers of children with Fragile X Syndrome. They measured the severity of the child’s disability, perceived stress, mindfulness, mindful parenting, anxiety, depression, physical health, and psychological acceptance. They then performed a regression analysis to explore the relationships between these variables.

 

They found that overall the mothers were high in perceived stress and anxiety. The child’s symptoms took their toll as the greater the severity of the child’s disability the higher the levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms in the mothers. They also found that mindfulness and acceptance appeared to buffer these effects with high levels of mindfulness and acceptance associated with low levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms and high levels of mindful parenting associated with low levels of anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms. Importantly, acceptance attenuated the effect of the child’s disability the lower the levels of physical symptoms. Being mindful and accepting of the child’s condition and behavior were very highly associated with reduced maternal distress.

 

These results are interesting but they are correlational and causation cannot be determined. But they suggest that mindfulness, mindful parenting, and acceptance are important for dealing with the deleterious effects of caring for a child with Fragile X Syndrome. Previous research has shown that mindfulness can produce improvements in the caregiver’s psychological state. So, it is likely that there is a causal connection between mindfulness and the psychological state of caregivers for children with Fragile X Syndrome.

 

These results suggest that training in mindfulness, mindful parenting, and acceptance may be greatly beneficial for mothers caring for children with Fragile X Syndrome, reducing their distress and potentially improving their caregiving for the child. This is a difficult situation for the mothers and such help could be greatly beneficial.

 

So, improve the psychological health of mothers of children with Fragile X Syndrome with mindfulness.

 

“mindfulness practices could be helpful for these caregivers because they encourage a nonjudgmental interpretation of their child’s situation, and increased acceptance of their reality. Mindfulness practices also help people observe their thoughts and behaviors with less reactivity and judgment, which could enable caregivers to better respond to the emotional and physical difficulties they encounter.” – Emily Nauman

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Wheeler, A. C., Miller, S., Wylie, A., & Edwards, A. (2018). Mindfulness and Acceptance as Potential Protective Factors for Mothers of Children With Fragile X Syndrome. Frontiers in public health, 6, 316. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2018.00316

 

Abstract

Women with an FMR1 premutation may be at increased genetic risk for stress vulnerability. This increased vulnerability, when combined with stressful parenting that can result from raising children with fragile X syndrome (FXS), may result in negative physical and emotional outcomes. Mindfulness and acceptance have been found to be protective factors for parents of children with similar behavioral challenges, but these traits have not previously been explored among mothers with a child with FXS. This study explored the associations of child disability severity with maternal stress, anxiety, depression, and physical health symptoms in 155 biological mothers of children with FXS. Women completed an online survey using standardized measures of stress, mindfulness, and acceptance. General mindfulness, mindfulness in the parenting role, and general acceptance were explored as potential protective factors between the child disability severity and maternal outcomes. Trait mindfulness and acceptance were significant predictors of lower stress, anxiety, depression, and daily health symptoms, while mindful parenting was associated with lower stress, anxiety, and depression. Acceptance was found to attenuate the effects of child severity on maternal stress and depression. These findings suggest that interventions focused on improving mindfulness and acceptance may promote health and well-being for mothers of children with FXS and have important health implications for all individuals with an FMR1 premutation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6232517/

 

Mindfulness Improves the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by Altering Gene Expression

Mindfulness Improves the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by Altering Gene Expression

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness has been shown to be an effective stress reduction practices in general, but there may be other ways it works for people with PTSD as well. Recent research suggests that mindfulness may help to mitigate the relationship between maladaptive thinking and posttraumatic distress.” – Matthew Tull

 

Experiencing trauma is quite common. It has been estimated that 60% of men and 50% of women will experience a significant traumatic event during their lifetime. But only a fraction will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But this still results in a frightening number of people with 7%-8% of the population developing PTSD at some point in their life.

 

PTSD involves a number of troubling symptoms including reliving the event with the same fear and horror in nightmares or with a flashback. PTSD sufferers avoid situations that remind them of the event this may include crowds, driving, movies, etc. and may avoid seeking help because it keeps them from having to think or talk about the event. They often experience negative changes in beliefs and feelings including difficulty experiencing positive or loving feelings toward other people, avoiding relationships, memory difficulties, or see the world as dangerous and no one can be trusted. Sufferers may feel hyperarousal, feeling keyed up and jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. They may experience sudden anger or irritability, may have a hard time sleeping or concentrating, may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.

 

Obviously, these are troubling symptoms that need to be addressed. There are a number of therapies that have been developed to treat PTSD. One of which, mindfulness training has been found to be particularly effectiveMindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has been found to improve PTSD symptoms. It has been shown that mindfulness practices can alter the brain structures and connectivity and this may underlie the beneficial effects of mindfulness on PTSD. These alterations probably involve changes in the chemistry of the brain particularly with systems associated with stress and depression.

 

In today’s Research News article “Methylation of FKBP5 and SLC6A4 in Relation to Treatment Response to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6153325/ ), Bishop and colleagues examine the activation of genes associated with stress and depression in patients with PTSD who responded and did not respond to treatment with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), They examined patients from a previous study of the effectiveness of MBSR for the treatment of PTSD who showed a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms and those that did not. The MBSR treatment consisted of body scan, meditation, and yoga practices and group discussion and occurred in 9 weekly, 2.5 hour sessions. with homework. Blood samples were drawn before and after treatment. They measured the degree of methylation of genes in the he promoter region of SLC6A4 previously associated with depression risk and symptoms and genes in the FKBP5 Intron 7 region identified as a functional regulator of glucocorticoid signaling.

 

They found that after Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) treatment there was a significant reduction in methylation of genes in the FKBP5 Intron 7 region in responders but an increase in non-responders. These genes are associated with stress related responding. Methylation tends to suppress gene expression, So, decreased methylation indicates an increased level of activity in stress related hormonal pathways.

 

These findings are interesting but not surprising as MBSR was developed specifically to improve stress responses. It is interesting that only patients who responded to treatment had this change to the genes underlying stress responding. So, it appears that MBSR is effective for PTSD symptoms but only if it changes stress related gene expression. It will be interesting to examine in the future the factors that result in non-responders being resistant to treatment with MBSR.

 

So, improve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by altering gene expression with mindfulness.

 

Many people cope with trauma by distancing themselves from the sensations in their bodies and minds (the most extreme example of this is dissociation). Therefore, bringing one’s attention deliberately back to the body can unzip trauma symptoms they may not be prepared to address. However, mindfulness meditation can be helpful to those with PTSD and a history of trauma when practiced under the guidance of a mental healthcare provider and modified to be better suited for trauma survivors.” – Julia Ozog

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

Bishop, J. R., Lee, A. M., Mills, L. J., Thuras, P. D., Eum, S., Clancy, D., Erbes, C. R., Polusny, M. A., Lamberty, G. J., … Lim, K. O. (2018). Methylation of FKBP5 and SLC6A4 in Relation to Treatment Response to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 418. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00418

 

Abstract

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an effective non-pharmacologic treatment for veterans with PTSD. Extensive work has identified epigenetic factors related to PTSD disease risk and pathophysiology, but how these factors influence treatment response is unclear. Serotonin signaling and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning may be perturbed in PTSD and are molecular pathways targeted by PTSD treatments. To identify potential biomarkers for treatment response, we utilized genomic DNA isolated from peripheral blood samples from veterans with PTSD who were responders (n = 11) or non-responders (n = 11) to MBSR as part of a clinical trial. We assessed methylation levels at CpG sites in regions of the serotonin transporter (SLC6A4) previously associated with expression and depression outcomes, as well as the Intron 7 region of the FK506 binding protein 5 (FKBP5) containing known glucocorticoid response elements suggested to regulate this gene. Selected subjects were matched across MBSR responder status by baseline symptoms, age, sex, current smoking status, and current antidepressant use. Percent methylation was compared between responders and non-responders at baseline (pre-MBSR treatment). Additionally, percent change in methylation from baseline to post-treatment was compared between responders and non-responders. There was a significant time x responder group interaction for methylation in FKBP5 intron 7 bin 2 [F(1, 19) = 7.492, p = 0.013] whereby responders had a decrease in methylation and non-responders had an increase in methylation from before to after treatment in this region. Analyses of the three CpG sites within bin 2 revealed a significant time x responder group interaction for CpG_35558513 [F(1, 19) = 5.551, p = 0.029] which resides in a known glucocorticoid response element (GRE). Decreases in FKBP5 methylation after treatment in responders as compared to increases in non-responders suggest that effective meditation intervention may be associated with stress-related pathways at the molecular level. These preliminary findings suggest that DNA methylation signatures within FKBP5 are potential indicators of response to meditation treatment in PTSD and require validation in larger cohorts.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6153325/

 

Slow Aging with Meditation

Slow Aging with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“What we do know is that long-term engagement in mindfulness meditation may enhance cognitive performance in older adults, and that with persistent practice, these benefits may be sustained. That’s great news for the millions of aging adults working to combat the negative effects of aging on the brain.” – B. Grace Bullock

 

Human life is one of constant change. We revel in our increases in physical and mental capacities during development but regret their decreases during aging. The aging process, starting in the 20s involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. There is interest in finding ways to slow the aging process to improve longevity and health and mindfulness training has been found to do just that.

 

DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism used by cells to control gene expression. Epigenetic effects on the DNA arise from the environment and not the genes themselves. DNA methylation can fix genes in the “off” position, preventing them from carrying out their normal function. Indeed, the amount of methylation of DNA is associated with disease and aging. The greater the amount of methylation in the DNA the more disease. It can be thought of as a cellular marker of aging. It is sometimes considered as an epigenetic clock, the greater the age, the more methylation. It is possible that meditation practice slows the aging process by decreasing methylation in the DNA.

 

In today’s Research News article “Epigenetic clock analysis in long-term meditators.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5863232/ ), Chaix and colleagues obtained blood samples from meditation naïve individuals and long-term (> 3 years) meditators. The samples were assayed for methylation in the DNA and this was used to calculate the intrinsic epigenetic age of the individual (the age predicted by the degree of DNA methylation).

 

They found, as expected, that the greater the amount of methylation of the DNA the greater the actual calendar age of the participant for both groups. In the meditation naïve participants those over 52 years of age had significantly higher intrinsic epigenetic ages than those under 52. This is as expected. On the other hand, the long-term meditators over 52 years of age had equivalent intrinsic epigenetic ages to those under 52. The longer the meditators had been practicing the greater the reduction in their intrinsic epigenetic age. It was reduced by 0.24 years for each year of meditation practice.

 

These results suggest a possible mechanism by which meditation practice may slow the aging process. They suggest that meditation practice reduces the methylation in the DNA and perhaps, thereby, helps maintain the DNA’s functional integrity into higher ages. Stress is known to increase DNA methylation. So, it is possible that mindfulness practices reduce methylation in the DNA by reducing the physiological and psychological effects of stress. Regardless, the results suggest that meditation practice slows the changes in the individual’s genetic material that’s associated with aging.

 

So, slow aging with meditation.

 

“According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 20 million Americans practice some form of meditation to achieve greater peace of mind and enhanced sense of well-being. Now studies of the neurological differences between meditators and non-meditators, and studies of immune cell aging via telomere length in meditators and non-meditators, show that meditation can also affect the way we age.” – Seth Segall

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Chaix, R., Alvarez-López, M. J., Fagny, M., Lemee, L., Regnault, B., Davidson, R. J., … Kaliman, P. (2017). Epigenetic clock analysis in long-term meditators. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 85, 210–214. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.08.016

 

Abstract

In this paper, we examined whether meditation practice influences the epigenetic clock, a strong and reproducible biomarker of biological aging, which is accelerated by cumulative lifetime stress and with age-related chronic diseases. Using the Illumina 450 K array platform, we analyzed the DNA methylome from blood cells of long-term meditators and meditation-naïve controls to estimate their Intrinsic Epigenetic Age Acceleration (IEAA), using Horvath’s calculator. IEAA was similar in both groups. However, controls showed a different IEAA trajectory with aging than meditators: older controls (age ≥ 52) had significantly higher IEAAs compared with younger controls (age < 52), while meditators were protected from this epigenetic aging effect. Notably, in the meditation group, we found a significant negative correlation between IEAA and the number of years of regular meditation practice. From our results, we hypothesize that the cumulative effects of a regular meditation practice may, in the long-term, help to slow the epigenetic clock and could represent a useful preventive strategy for age-related chronic diseases. Longitudinal randomized controlled trials in larger cohorts are warranted to confirm and further characterize these findings.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5863232/

 

Reduce Genetic Markers of Inflammation with Yoga

Reduce Genetic Markers of Inflammation with Yoga

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Yoga is fantastic for decreasing stress levels, and research has also shown that those who practice yoga regularly have higher levels of leptin and adiponectin in their bodies. Both of these natural chemicals work to alleviate inflammation in the body.” – Julie Montagu

 

The immune system is designed to protect the body from threats like stress, infection, injury, and toxic chemicals. One of its tools is the Inflammatory response. This response works quite well for short-term infections and injuries. But when inflammation is protracted and becomes chronic, it can itself become a threat to health. It can produce autoimmune diseases such as colitis, Chron’s disease, arthritis, heart disease, increased cancer risk, lung disease, sleep disruption, gum disease, decreased bone health, psoriasis, and depression. Needless to say, chronic inflammation can create major health problems. Indeed, the presence of chronic inflammation is associated with reduced longevity. So, it is important for health to control the inflammatory response, allowing it to do its job in fighting off infection but reducing its activity when no real external threat is apparent.

 

Of course, it is far better to prevent chronic inflammation in the first place than to treat it later. Mind-body techniques such as yoga, Tai Chi and meditation have been shown to adaptively reduce the inflammatory response. In today’s Research News article “Preliminary indications of the effect of a brief yoga intervention on markers of inflammation and DNA methylation in chronically stressed women.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5290356/ ), Harkess and colleagues recruited women who were psychologically distressed and randomly assigned them to either a wait-list or to receive 8 weeks of twice a week for 1-hour yoga practice. Blood samples were obtained from the participants and measures of psychological distress, perceived stress, and positive and negative emotions, before and after the practice and 1 month later. Blood was assayed for concentrations of cytokines (IL-6, TNF), DNA methylation for immune candidates IL-6, CRP, and TNF.

 

They found that there were trends for improvements in all of the inflammation markers, but most were not significant. But, there was a significant improvement in the marker of DNA methylation in the region of Tumor Necrosis Factor, TNF. DNA methylation have been associated with poor physical health, and high levels of inflammation. So, the reduction in DNA methylation in the TNF region suggests a reduction in chronic inflammation. This may suggest that yoga practice might improve general health by reducing chronic inflammation.

 

It is reasonable to conclude that although there were many suggestive results, this pilot trial did not have sufficient statistical power to detect significant differences for most markers. Also, more extensive yoga practice beyond the 16 sessions in this trial, might produce more robust effects. In addition, the pilot trial lacked an active control condition. So, a number of sources of bias could be responsible for the results. The results, however, are sufficiently interesting and suggestive that they support conducting a larger randomized controlled clinical trial with an active control, perhaps aerobic exercise on the effectiveness of yoga practice on genetic markers of inflammation.

 

“There’s evidence that such “mind-body practices” dampen the activity of genes associated with inflammation – essentially reversing molecular damage caused by stress.” – Jo Marchant

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Harkess, K. N., Ryan, J., Delfabbro, P. H., & Cohen-Woods, S. (2016). Preliminary indications of the effect of a brief yoga intervention on markers of inflammation and DNA methylation in chronically stressed women. Translational Psychiatry, 6(11), e965–. http://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2016.234

 

Abstract

Yoga is associated with reduced stress and increased well-being, although the molecular basis for these benefits is not clear. Mounting evidence implicates the immune response, with current studies focused on protein immune markers (such as cytokines) in clinical populations. To explore the molecular impact, this pilot study uses a subsample (n=28) from a randomised waitlist control trial investigating the impact of an 8-week yoga intervention in a community population of women reporting psychological distress (N=116). We measured interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumour necrosis factor (TNF) and C-reactive protein (CRP) protein levels, and the DNA methylation of these genes and the global indicator, LINE-1. Correlations between these and psychological variables were explored, identifying moderate correlations with CRP protein levels, and methylation of IL-6, CRP and LINE-1. Many cytokine samples were below detection, however a Mann–Whitney U demonstrated a trend of moderate between-group effect for elevated IL-6 in the yoga group. Methylation analyses applied cross-sectional and non-controlled longitudinal analyses. Waist-to-height ratio and age were covaried. We demonstrated reduced methylation of the TNF region in the yoga group relative to the waitlist control group. No other genes demonstrated a significant difference. Longitudinal analysis further supported these results. This study is one of the first to explore yoga and immunological markers in a non-clinical population, and is the first study to explore DNA methylation. These findings indicate that further research into molecular impact of yoga on markers of immune function is warranted, with larger studies required.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5290356/

Protect the Aging Brain with Meditation

Protect the Aging Brain with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“long-term engagement in mindfulness meditation may enhance cognitive performance in older adults, and that with persistent practice, these benefits may be sustained. That’s great news for the millions of aging adults working to combat the negative effects of aging on the brain.” B. Grace Bullock

 

Human life is one of constant change. We revel in our increases in physical and mental capacities during development, but regret their decreases during aging. The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. Starting in the 20s there is a progressive decrease in the volume of the brain as we age.

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity.  Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread area. and have found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.

 

In today’s Research News article “Promising Links between Meditation and Reduced (Brain) Aging: An Attempt to Bridge Some Gaps between the Alleged Fountain of Youth and the Youth of the Field.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447722/, Kurth and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the neuroprotective effects of meditation in the elderly. They discuss the ideas that the aging based deterioration of the brain is due to a number of processes, including changes in the DNA telomeres, inflammation, stress, and neuroplasticity and that meditation appears to effect all of these processes.

 

There has accumulated evidence that meditation protects against age related decline at the molecular genetic level. As we age the length of a DNA structures called the telomeres progressively shorten. It is thought that the shorter the telomeres get the more difficult it becomes for cells to replicate properly and thus leads to decline. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically, has been shown to reduce the shortening of the telomeres with aging. Kurth and colleagues speculate that this is one mechanism by which meditation protects the brain from age related decline.

 

As we age the natural inflammatory response that normally occurs to protect against infection begins to increase in general and lose its specificity to fighting particular diseases, pathogens, and injuries. It becomes more widespread damaging normal tissues. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to reduce inflammatory responses. It seems reasonable that this is another mechanism by which meditation protects the body from age related decline.

 

Stress is present throughout life. But if it is too intense or prolonged the biological responses to stress begin to damage the body. These stress induced changes are similar to age related deterioration. Stress effects may accumulate over time. Hence, the older we get the greater the total stress induced damage. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to improve emotion regulation and to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. This is hypothesized to be another mechanism by which meditation protects the brain from deterioration with aging.

 

Neuroplasticity is a change in the size and connectivity of brain structures as they are exercised over a prolonged period of time. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to produce neuroplastic changes in the brain, increasing the size and connectivity of brain structures. This process would tend to counteract brain degeneration with aging and may be another mechanism by which meditation protects the brain during aging.

 

Hence there has accumulated evidence that meditation reduces the deterioration of the brain with aging. It appears to do so by altering a number of different mechanisms including changes in the DNA telomeres, inflammation, stress, and neuroplasticity. This protection of the brain may be responsible to the ability of meditation to reduce the decline in mental abilities that occur with aging. This would tend to make aging a more benign process.

 

So, protect the aging brain with meditation.

 

We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating. Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.” – Florian Kurth

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Kurth, F., Cherbuin, N., & Luders, E. (2017). Promising Links between Meditation and Reduced (Brain) Aging: An Attempt to Bridge Some Gaps between the Alleged Fountain of Youth and the Youth of the Field. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 860. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00860

 

Abstract

Over the last decade, an increasing number of studies has reported a positive impact of meditation on cerebral aging. However, the underlying mechanisms for these seemingly brain-protecting effects are not well-understood. This may be due to the fact, at least partly, that systematic empirical meditation research has emerged only recently as a field of scientific scrutiny. Thus, on the one hand, critical questions remain largely unanswered; and on the other hand, outcomes of existing research require better integration to build a more comprehensive and holistic picture. In this article, we first review theories and mechanisms pertaining to normal (brain) aging, specifically focusing on telomeres, inflammation, stress regulation, and macroscopic brain anatomy. Then, we summarize existing research integrating the developing evidence suggesting that meditation exerts positive effects on (brain) aging, while carefully discussing possible mechanisms through which these effects may be mediated.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447722/