Practising mindfulness meditation, yoga or being involved in a support group have positive impacts at the cellular level in breast cancer, a new study finds.
The study, conducted at Canadian cancer centres, found that breast cancer survivors who practised meditation and yoga or took part in support groups had longer telomeres, part of the chromosome thought to be important in physical health.
Dr. Linda E. Carlson, who led the study, said:
“We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology.”
The role of telomores — protein complexes that book-end the chromosomes — is not fully understood, but shortened telomores have been linked to cell ageing and disease states.
Dr. Carlson continued:
“It was surprising that we could see any difference in telomere length at all over the three-month period studied.
Further research is needed to better quantify these potential health benefits, but this is an exciting discovery that provides encouraging news.”
The study divided 88 breast cancer survivors into three groups (Carlson et al., 2014).
One group took part in eight weekly mindfulness meditation classes that lasted 90 minutes, which also included some gentle Hatha yoga.
Participants continued their mindfulness practice at home for 45 minutes a day.
Another group went to a ‘Supportive Expressive Therapy’ group in which they talked openly about their concerns for 90 minutes over 12 weeks.
The aim of the group was to help the women express both positive and negative emotions with each other along with building mutual support between group members.
A third group — the control — took a single 5-hour stress reduction class.
The results showed that while telomore length had shortened in the control group, it was maintained in the support and meditation groups combined.
One of the study’s participants, Allison McPherson, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, said:
“I was skeptical at first and thought it was a bunch of hocus-pocus.
But I now practise mindfulness throughout the day and it’s reminded me to become less reactive and kinder toward myself and others.”
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Another breast cancer survivor who took part, Deanne David, said:
“Being part of this made a huge difference to me.
I think people involved in their own cancer journey would benefit from learning more about mindfulness and connecting with others who are going through the same things.”