Meditation and genes
The positive effects of meditation
About the fact that meditation positively affects the body and mind, for example reducing the risk of depression, scientists have known for a long time. However, now it turns out that this influence is much more significant than we ever expected – as meditation also affects the genes – says Dr. Deepak Chopra, an endocrinologist and metabolism specialist, known around the entire world, and an author of over 80 popular science books.
Chopra, in his entry on LinkedIn, brings forward studies described in “Translational Psychiatry.” As he emphasises, these were important scientific studies, done by specialists from Icahn School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School.
The discovery of Dr. Deepak Chopra
The doctor points out that these studies are a real breakthrough, as up until now, researchers and doctors were convinced that genes never change and we never lose them or attain new ones. In regards to the latter, it’s true that nothing has changed – there is no chance for a person to automatically lose or gain some genes. Although, of course, the cells become altered when, for example, they are affected by cancer. So what is the breakthrough here?
There is something called gene activity – DNA is, as Chopra writes, “incredibly dynamic and responsive to a person’s lifestyle.” It’s the genes that regulate every chemical reaction in the cell, which in effect is the reason there are thousands of variations of the genes. To explain it more graphically: they work like a potentiometer, which regulates pressure – and in audio equipment, it could be, for example, volume regulation. The question that scientists have asked themselves up until now is how to cause the cells to send and receive the most positive signals – ones, which will increase the lifetime of a cell, and thus improve the condition of entire tissues in the body, and in effect – the general quality of life.
Because of this, Chopra explains, it would be a tremendous change if we could make choices with the awareness that they directly and immediately improve the functions of the body on a genetic level. That’s what the new study confirms, the doctor emphasises.
How was the experiment done?
The authors of the studies describe their achievements this way:
94 healthy women between ages 30-60 participated in the study. 64 of them didn’t meditate regularly. The subjects stayed in the same location – the La Costa resort in California, for six days. Half of them were simply supposed to be on vacation, while the second was included in a particular meditation program. It consisted of learning mantra meditation, yoga, and practising self-reflection. Everything was designed by Dr. Deepak Chopra, who did not participate in collecting nor analysing the information.
The researchers also analysed 30 other people experienced in meditation, as the participants in the Chopra program were analysed a week before the remaining participants arrived. The researchers collected blood samples and surveyed participants of the experiment right before arrival and right before departure. There were also surveys done a month after the test and 10 months after.
The researchers tested over 20 thousand changes in the genes, in order to decide which ones and how changed under the influence of the experiment in La Costa. To this end, they compared, amongst others, the activity of the gene network in each of the three tested groups. As a result, it turned out that all three groups noted significant changes in the genes’ activity – i.a. related to reactions to stress and immunity functions.
The researchers also evaluated how the wellbeing of the participants changed. All groups, even a month after the experiment, noted an improvement in their wellbeing, and on top of that, the group of beginner meditators had fewer symptoms of depression and was less stressed for longer periods of time than those who stayed at La Costa only “for vacation.”
SOD2 gene and antioxidants
There are many processes active in each body, thanks to which the so-called free radicals are made. An excessive amount of these molecules causes damage to essential components of living cells, such as proteins and DNA. Free radicals may also enter into the body from the environment.
The human body contains some protections against the harmful action of free radicals. One such protector of the body is the SOD2 enzyme, which has potent antioxidant properties. This enzyme is responsible for protecting the cell mitochondria. This means that it makes up the body’s first line of defence against free radicals forming inside the cell. An incorrect variation of the SOD2 gene may contribute to intensifying diseases related to obesity. Its incorrect action brings an increased risk of coronary heart disease, atherosclerotic disease, tumors, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Recognizing the genetic variant
Recognizing the genetic variant allows for the usage of food products with action enhancing the antioxidant system of the body, and also strengthening its so-called second line of the defence. It’s based mainly on antioxidants, which capture free radicals and in such protect our body. They include α-Tocopherol, β-Carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C and other antioxidants found in food.
Natural sources of antioxidants are amongst others: apples, green tea, citrus, grapes, lentils, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pepper, spinach, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and currants.