Practising mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as meditation, yoga and Tai Chi daily reduces risk of depression and cancer by reversing the molecular reactions in DNA, suggests a new study.
Researchers from the universities of Coventry and Radboud, UK, reviewed 18 studies – featuring 846 participants over 11 years – on how the behaviour of our genes is affected by different MBIs including mindfulness and yoga.
They revealed a pattern in the molecular changes, which happen to the body as a result of the MBIs, and showed how those changes benefit our mental and physical health.
They explained the way that genes activate to produce proteins which influence the biological make-up of the body, the brain and the immune system.
When a person is exposed to a stressful event, their sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – the system responsible for the 'fight-or-flight' response – is triggered, in turn increasing production of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB), which regulates how our genes are expressed.
NF-kB translates stress by activating genes to produce proteins called cytokines that cause inflammation at cellular level – a reaction that is useful as a short-lived fight-or-flight reaction, but if persistent, leads to a higher risk of cancer, accelerated aging and psychiatric disorders like depression.
According to the study, however, people who practise MBIs exhibit the opposite effect – namely a decrease in production of NF-kB and cytokines, leading to a reversal of the pro-inflammatory gene expression pattern and a reduction in the risk of inflammation-related diseases and conditions.
Lead investigator Ivana Buric said that millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what perhaps these people do not realise is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.