Can Meditation Change Your Gene Expression?
The benefits of mindfulness meditation seem to be never-ending; it decreases stress and helps you focus. It can even rewire your mental circuitry. But it’s not just your synapses that see the benefits. As it turns out, meditating may change the ways in which your genes express themselves.
Mindfulness meditation is an adapted form of Buddhist meditation in which practitioners focus on present thoughts and actions in a non-judgmental way, ignoring past grudges and future concerns.
Scientists have found that mindfulness meditation is associated with preserved telomere length. Telomeres are stretches of DNA that cap our chromosomes and help prevent chromosomal deterioration. Mindfulness is associated with healthier levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a decrease in compounds that promote inflammation, which affect telomere health. It is now believed that meditation can improve telomere health.
Exercise may have similar effects on our DNA. A recent study found that exercise changes the shape and functioning in our genes, which is an important factor to improving our health and fitness. While the human genome is complicated, scientists already know that certain genes become active or quieter because of exercise, but what they didn’t know was how those genes know how to respond to exercise.
According to Malene Lindhom, a graduate student at the Karolinska Institute:
“Through endurance training — a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn’t cost much money, we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes and, through that, get healthier and more functional muscles that ultimately improve our quality of life.”
The relationship between meditation and gene expression seems to be similar.
According to a report published by Harvard Medical School in 2011, 6.3 million Americans were using mind-body therapies on the advice of physicians.
Although very promising, much more research is needed to confirm these study results. Does meditation or exercise help our genes express in healthier ways? How does that affect our DNA and what we pass on in our inherited material? The jury is out and there are a lot of unanswered questions, but what we do know is that meditation has no negative side effects, so why not give it a try?