Study finds yoga and meditation can change genes, reverse depression

For a healthy body, in the long run, practising mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as meditation, yoga and Tai Chi daily reduces the risk of depression and cancer by reversing the molecular reactions in DNA, suggests a study.

Researchers from the Universities of Coventry and Radboud, through 18 studies, featuring 846 participants over 11 years, revealed a pattern in the molecular changes which happen to the body as a result of the MBIs, and 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, increases 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 the 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 ageing 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.

“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, the MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.”

The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.


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