Mind-body practices such as meditation, yoga and Tai Chi can reverse the effects of stress on our DNA, research finds.
Usually stress causes increased levels of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB).
This is involved in the reaction to stress and how our genes are expressed.
It also has a key role in how our bodies respond to infection.
Practices like meditation reduce the levels of this stress-related molecule.
They also lower the levels of cytokines in the body — these are linked to inflammation at the cellular level.
Ms Ivana Buric, the study’s first author, said:
“Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realise is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.
These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed.
Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.
More needs to be done to understand these effects in greater depth, for example how they compare with other healthy interventions like exercise or nutrition.
But this is an important foundation to build on to help future researchers explore the benefits of increasingly popular mind-body activities.”
For the study, researchers pulled together the results of 18 different studies on 846 people across 11 years.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology (Buric et al., 2017).