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/

Improve Cellular Molecular Health with a Meditation Retreat

 

meditation-retreat-molecular-effects2-epel

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Researchers globally are continuing to explore how telomerase activity can be a measure of the effects of psychological stress on physical health. As they study the different types of meditation in more detail and uncover more of the benefits for cell aging, we will gain a deeper understanding of the new-found link between mind and body health. In the meantime, it seems that any type of meditation can do some good for your longevity.” – Courtney Danyel

 

Meditation practice has been shown to improve health and longevity. One way it appears to act is by altering the genes which govern cellular processes in our bodies. One of the most fundamental of these processes is cell replication. Our bodies are constantly turning over cells. 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 were 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. There is an enzyme in the body called telomerase that helps to prevent shortening of the telomere. So, processes that increase telomerase activity tend to slow the aging process. Contemplative practice has been shown to increase telomerase activity thus helping to prevent cellular aging. It is thought that this protection of telomeres could protect the body’s cells from aging and deterioration and be the basis for the increased longevity in contemplative practitioners. So, it is important to further investigate the effects of contemplative practices on telomeres and telomerase.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1359334237423832/?type=3&theater

or see summary below, Epel and colleagues studied the impact of a 5-day intensive meditation retreat on the genes associated with health and longevity. They compared two groups of people participating in a meditation retreat, novices and experienced meditators to a novel vacation control group which spent a comparable amount of time in a spa in the same location at the same time simply relaxing. The participants were measured before and after the retreat or vacation and 1-month and 12 months later for depression, stress, mindfulness, vitality, and blood was drawn for genetic analysis.

 

They found that all three groups showed significant improvements in depression, stress, mindfulness and vitality after the treatment, which was maintained 1-month later, while the novice meditators on the retreat maintained the improvements in depression and stress at the 10-month follow-up. There were marked changes in gene expressions that were present in all groups that included genes involved in the suppression of stress-related responses and immune function related to acute-phase wound healing and inflammation. Hence, the retreat and the vacation produced change in gene expressions that reflected lower stress, wounding, and inflammation, all of which signal improved health and well-being. In addition, the experienced meditator group showed increased expression for genes associated with healthy aging and in increased telomerase levels. Hence, meditation appears to promote healthy aging and longevity by protecting the telomeres from shortening which signals aging.

 

These are outstanding results and demonstrate that a week’s break either in the form of a meditation retreat or as a simple vacation produces improved mental health and vitality and decreased stress and gene expressions reflecting reduced stress and inflammation. This is a marked endorsement of the importance of a vacation to the individual’s health and well-being. But, the addition of meditation produces additional benefits which signal healthy aging and longevity. This is a marked endorsement of meditation retreat to not only improve current well-being but also to produce healthier aging.

 

So, improve cellular molecular health with a meditation retreat.

 

“At the retreat, the teacher warned us over and over not to look for major shifts in our lives when we got home. But my constellation of little changes seemed just evidence, really, that with continuous effort, I could change the way my mind worked. I could decouple, however briefly, my sense of self from the meat sack of mind and body. And that decoupling gave me the ability to actually control where that sack was headed next.” – Zoe Schlanger

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

Epel ES, Puterman E, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Lum PY, Beckmann ND, Zhu J, Lee E, Gilbert A, Rissman RA, Tanzi RE, Schadt EE. Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes. Translational Psychiatry (2016) 6, e880; doi:10.1038/tp.2016.164. Published online 30 August 2016

 

Abstract

Meditation is becoming increasingly practiced, especially for stress-related medical conditions. Meditation may improve cellular health; however, studies have not separated out effects of meditation from vacation-like effects in a residential randomized controlled trial. We recruited healthy women non-meditators to live at a resort for 6 days and randomized to either meditation retreat or relaxing on-site, with both groups compared with ‘regular meditators’ already enrolled in the retreat. Blood drawn at baseline and post intervention was assessed for transcriptome-wide expression patterns and aging-related biomarkers. Highly significant gene expression changes were detected across all groups (the ‘vacation effect’) that could accurately predict (96% accuracy) between baseline and post-intervention states and were characterized by improved regulation of stress response, immune function and amyloid beta (Aβ) metabolism. Although a smaller set of genes was affected, regular meditators showed post-intervention differences in a gene network characterized by lower regulation of protein synthesis and viral genome activity. Changes in well-being were assessed post intervention relative to baseline, as well as 1 and 10 months later. All groups showed equivalently large immediate post-intervention improvements in well-being, but novice meditators showed greater maintenance of lower distress over time compared with those in the vacation arm. Regular meditators showed a trend toward increased telomerase activity compared with randomized women, who showed increased plasma Aβ42/Aβ40 ratios and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) levels. This highly controlled residential study showed large salutary changes in gene expression networks due to the vacation effect, common to all groups. For those already trained in the practice of meditation, a retreat appears to provide additional benefits to cellular health beyond the vacation effect

Mindfulness Interacts with the Genes in Producing Personality Change

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“It had been traditionally assumed that personality traits are relatively stable entities, but more recent research demonstrates that personality, including disposition towards mindfulness, can change over time as a result of life experiences or through mindfulness practice.” – Yi‑Yuan Tang

 

The genes dictate all of the chemical processes in our bodies including brain development and plasticity. One gene, in particular, encodes the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). It is a protein found in the brain and spinal cord that promotes the survival of nerve cells by playing a role in the growth, maturation, and maintenance of these cells. In the brain, the BDNF protein is active at the connections between nerve cells (synapses), where cell-to-cell communication occurs. The synapses can change and adapt over time in response to experience, a characteristic called neuroplasticity. The BDNF protein helps regulate neuroplasticity, which is important for learning and memory.

 

Since BDNF is involved in the development of the nervous system, and the nervous system, in part, determines our personality characteristics, it would seem reasonable to suspect that the genes underlying BDNF production would be associated with personality. In addition, since BDNF is involved in the plasticity of the nervous system, its ability to change and adapt to the environment and experience, it would seem reasonable to suspect that the genes underlying BDNF production would be associated with variations in brain neuroplasticity. The genes underlying BDNF production have a major variant that is present in approximately 25% of the population. It is possible that this variant may be responsible, in part, for differences between people in personality and neuroplasticity.

 

This reasoning taken together with the facts that mindfulness practices, including meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, are known to change the nervous system through neuroplasticity and are known to change some aspects of personality, it would seem reasonable to suspect that different variants of the genes underlying BDNF production would be associated with differences in the ability of mind body practices to change the brain and personality. This complex logic leads to the idea that differences in BDNF gene variants may produce different personality changes in response to mind-body practices.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of Mind-Body Training on Personality and Behavioral Activation and Inhibition System According to BDNF Val66Met Polymorphism.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1276252265732030/?type=3&theater

or below or view the full text of the study at:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4878969/

Jung and colleagues examine this hypothesis. They recruited a group of participants who regularly practiced Brain Wave Vibration, a practice that is a movement based meditation resembling yoga, martial arts, and meditation. They also recruited a group who did not engage in mind-body practices. Both groups were separated into subgroups based upon whether they carried the normal or the variant of the BDNF gene. All participants were measured for personality and behavioral activation/inhibition.

 

They found that the BDNF gene variant affected personality with control participants who had the variant higher in neuroticism and lower in extroversion. Neuroticism is known to be associated with personality problems and mental illness. So, these results suggest that the BDNF gene variant produces personality problems. On the other hand, those participants who engaged in mind-body practices and had the BDNF gene variant were higher in extroversion and openness to experience than the control participants who also had the BDNF gene variant. These results are complex but indicate firstly that the genes are involved in the determination of personality characteristics and secondly that they modify the ability of mind-body practices to change personality. They also show that engagement in mind-body practices can, to some extent, help to correct personality problems resulting from the individual’s inheritance.

 

So, practice mindfulness and improve personality characteristics regardless of your genetic inheritance.

 

“All the benefits of meditation arise from experiencing our mind as more workable. We can focus and guide it better and we can also let it go. More dance, less straitjacket.” – Barry Boyce

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

Jung, Y.-H., Lee, U. S., Jang, J. H., & Kang, D.-H. (2016). Effects of Mind-Body Training on Personality and Behavioral Activation and Inhibition System According to BDNF Val66Met Polymorphism. Psychiatry Investigation, 13(3), 333–340. http://doi.org/10.4306/pi.2016.13.3.333

 

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: It has been known that mind-body training (MBT) can affect personality and behavior system as well as emotional well-being, but different effects of MBT on them has not been reported according to BDNF genetic polymorphism.

METHODS: Healthy subjects consisted of 64 subjects and the MBT group who practiced meditation regularly consisted of 72 practitioners. Participants completed neuroticism-extraversion-openness (NEO) Five-Factor Inventory and Behavioral Activation System/Behavioral Inhibition System (BAS/BIS) scales. All subjects were genotyped for the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism.

RESULTS: In the same genotypes of the BDNF Val/Val+Val/Met group, MBT group showed the increased Extraversion (p=0.033) and the increased Openness to Experience (p=0.004) compared to the control group. Also, in the same Met/Met carriers, MBT group exhibited the increase of Extraversion (p=0.008), the reduction of Neuroticism (p=0.002), and the increase of Openness to Experience (p=0.008) compared to the control group. In the same genotypes of the BDNF Val/Val+Val/Met group, MBT group showed the decreased BAS-Reward Responsiveness (p=0.016) and the decrease of BIS (p=0.004) compared to the control group. In the BDNF Met/Met group, MBT group increased BAS-Fun Seeking (p=0.045) and decreased BIS (p=0.013) compared to the control group.

CONCLUSION: MBT would differently contribute to NEO personality and BAS/BIS according to BDNF genetic polymorphism, compensating for different vulnerable traits based on each genotype.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4878969/

 

Mindfully Control Inflammation

 

“I don’t think anybody would argue that fact that we know inflammation in the body, which comes from a lot of different sources, is the basis for a lot of chronic health problems, so by controlling that, we would expect to see increased life expectancy … but if we’re not changing those things and just taking ibuprofen, I don’t know if we’re really going to make any headway in that, I feel like there are probably a lot of factors that we could change without medicating with risk.”– Josie Znidarsic

 

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. Its primary effect is to increase blood circulation around the infected area, dilating the blood vessels around the site of inflammation. It also produces gaps in the cell walls surrounding the infected area, allowing the larger immune cells, to pass. It also tends to increase body temperature to further fight infection. This response works quite well for short-term infections and injuries and as such is an important defense mechanism for the body. But when inflammation is protracted and becomes chronic, it can itself become a threat to health.

 

Chronic inflammation 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 then reducing its activity when no external threat is apparent.

 

Contemplative practices appear to relax the physical systems of the body including the immune system, reducing inflammation. Mind-body techniques such as yoga, Tai Chi and meditation have been shown to adaptively reduce the inflammatory response (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/inflammatory-response/). In today’s Research News article “Mind-body therapies and control of inflammatory biology: A descriptive review”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1157023674321557/?type=3&theater

Bower and colleagues review the published research literature on the effects of mind-body practices on the inflammatory response. They found mixed and inconclusive results for circulating and cellular markers of inflammation but consistent findings for gene expression inflammatory pathways. These studies consistently demonstrated that mind-body practices including tai chi, yoga, and meditation produced a decrease in inflammatory gene expressions and does so in diverse populations of practitioners.

 

Bower and colleagues suggest that mind-body practices alter gene expression through their well-documented effects on the neuroendocrine system. These techniques are known to reduce the activity of the activating portion of the peripheral nervous system, the sympathetic system, to reduce the release of stress hormones, particularly cortisol, and to lower perceived stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/).  Mind-body practices are also known to improve emotion regulation (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/) and reduce depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/depression/), and anxiety (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2016/01/02/distress-produces-less-stress-with-mindfulness/). All of these effects occur via alterations of the nervous system by mind-body practices. The reduced activation and heightened relaxation then reduce the inflammatory response.

 

Regardless of the explanation, it is clear that mindfulness practices reduce potentially harmful inflammatory responses. So, mindfully control inflammation.

 

 

“The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment, and it can be practiced easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need.” – Melissa Rosenkranz

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Mind-body Practices Promote Health and Well-being by Changing Gene Expression

 

We can’t any longer have the conventional understanding of genetics which everybody peddles because it is increasingly obvious that epigenetics – actually things which influence the genome’s function – are much more important than we realised.Robert Winston

 

There is an accumulating volume of research findings to demonstrate that Mind-body therapies have highly beneficial effects on the health and well-being of humans. These include meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, hypnosis, and deep breathing exercises. Because of their proven benefits the application of these practices to relieving human suffering has skyrocketed.

 

It is clear that Mind-body therapies affect the physiology. In other words, the mind can alter the body. In turn, the genes can affect our minds. In fact, the genes have been shown to affect an individual’s inherent level of mindfulness (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/genetics/). These interactions are well documented. The mechanisms by which they occur, however, are not well understood. It has been shown that contemplative practices help create balance in the inflammatory response (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/inflammatory-response/) which is very beneficial for health. But, the mechanism through which contemplative practices affect the immune system is not known.

 

The genes dictate all of the chemical processes in our bodies including immune and inflammatory responses. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate whether alterations in gene expressions might be the intermediary between mind-body therapies and health. In today’s Research News article “Functional Genomics in the Study of Mind-Body Therapies”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1140382739318984/?type=3&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4295747/

Niles and colleagues review the literature on the effects of mind-body therapies on the functional expression of the genes. Out of the vast number of genomic pathways that can be affected, they found one which appears to be altered by mind-body therapies in general. This was a reduction in activity (downregulation) of the expression of genes that elicit the inflammatory response. In other words mindfulness practices reduce inflammation by reducing the activity of the genes that produce it.

 

This finding is extremely important as an overactive inflammatory system underlies many chronic diseases. Inflammation is a normal response of the body to outside threats like stress, infection, injury, and toxic chemicals. It is designed to protect the body and ward off these threats. It works quite well for short-term infections and injuries and as such is an important defense mechanism for the body. But when inflammation is protracted and becomes chronic, it can itself become a threat to health. Chronic inflammation 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 then reducing its activity when no external threat is apparent. Mind-body therapies appear to do just that by reducing the expression of the genes that produce inflammation.

 

Niles and colleagues also found that a number of mind-body therapies increase the activity of telomerase, an enzyme that protects the genes from deterioration, particularly during aging. Hence, mind-body therapies appear to have anti-aging properties by increasing the activity of genes the reduce age related deterioration (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/aging-healthily-yoga-and-cellular-aging/).

 

All of these results suggest that mind-body therapies promote health and well-being by altering gene expression. This is interesting and important. The next question is what are the mechanisms by which these practices affect gene expressions? It will be up to future research to investigate this link in the causal chain from mind-body therapies to the promotion of health and well-being.

 

So engage in mind-body practices, change gene expression and promote health and well-being.

 

Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and …. the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression.” – Richard Davidson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

 

 

Genes, Mindfulness, Anxiety, and Depression

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Of course, genes can’t pull the levers of our behavior directly. But they affect the wiring and workings of the brain, and the brain is the seat of our drives, temperaments and patterns of thought.” – Steven Pinker
There are large differences between people in both their physical and psychological characteristics, including their levels of mindfulness, anxiety, and depression. 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 (See http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/we-are-born-to-be-mindful/). It has also been shown that depression and our overall levels of anxiety are to a large extent inherited factors that also are affected by the environment. This taken together with the fact that mindfulness training is an effective treatment for depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/19/this-is-the-brain-on-meditation-major-depressive-disorder/), and anxiety (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/13/get-the-brain-to-reduce-anxiety-with-meditation/) raises the question of to what extent are the genes and environment underlying mindfulness also related to the genes and environment underlying depression and the genes and environment underlying anxiety.

 

In today’s Research News article “A Multivariate Twin Study of Trait Mindfulness, Depressive Symptoms, and Anxiety Sensitivity.”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1104498792907379/?type=3&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4413043/

Waszczuk and colleagues investigated the genetic and environmental determination of mindfulness, anxiety, and depression using a twin model including identical and fraternal twins. They found that low mindfulness was associated with high levels of anxiety and depression. They also found that there were significant influences of both heredity and environment on all three characteristics. In addition, they found that common genetic influences explained most of the association between low mindfulness, depressive symptoms, and anxiety sensitivity. In other words, not only was depression and anxiety related to low mindfulness, and that each of the characteristics were influenced by heredity, but also the relationship between them was also influenced by heredity.

 

It is important to keep in mind that although heredity was found to be an important contributor to each of these characteristics and their relationships, there were also significant environmental contributors. Hence, although biology, influenced by the genes is an important determinant, the environment is also. This suggests that environmental interventions such as mindfulness training could alter these characteristics and their relationships.

 

These are interesting and important observations. They go a long way toward explaining why people are so different in their inherent levels of mindfulness, anxiety and depression. They also help us to understand why different people may respond differently to mindfulness training for anxiety and depression.

 

So, develop mindfulness to assist your genes in fighting anxiety and depression.

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

 

We are born to be Mindful

We normally think of mindfulness as something we do that has effects on our physiology and indeed developing mindfulness has been clearly shown to do just that. Most of these physiological effects are positive and enhance our health and well-being. We also tend to think that through our experience and learning, external events, we decide to begin to cultivate mindfulness through contemplative practice.

But, is it possible that in fact the physiology may in part determine our level of mindfulness, perhaps there are factors that affect mindfulness from both our environment and our physiology? Today’s Research News article “A Multivariate Twin Study Of Trait Mindfulness, Depressive Symptoms, And Anxiety Sensitivity”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4413043/pdf/da0032-0254.pdf

explores just that question. They show that a substantial amount of our mindfulness is due to our inheritance. Indeed, they find that the environment is also responsible, just as we thought, but surprisingly, so are our genes. In other words, mindfulness originates in both our environment and our physiology. In a sense, we are born to be mindful and our experiences shape our mindfulness from there.

In a modern environment, the influence of the environment on mindfulness is negative. That is, it shapes us not to be mindful. We learn to immerse ourselves in thought to the detriment of our awareness of the present moment. Nature endows us with mindfulness. We are programmed to be attentive to our immediate surroundings, but our culture intervenes to replace it with thinking, thinking, and thinking.

This is not the fault of our parents. In fact, today’s article demonstrates that our family environment, what they termed shared environment, has no influence whatsoever on our mindfulness. It is the influences outside of the family, our culture, which affects our degree of mindfulness. So, don’t blame your parents, blame the society and world that we’ve created for making us oblivious to our present moment.

The mindfulness movement, the current revolution of engagement in contemplative practice is hopefully the antidote bringing us back to our primal state of mindfulness, bringing us back also to our primal state of happiness.

CMCS