Daily relaxation routines can result in beneficial long-term changes to genes involved in blood sugar control and other processes
FEELING run-down? Try a little chanting, or meditation – yes, really. Such relaxation techniques can boost the activity of genes that promote good health, and a few minutes each day is enough to show results.
“It’s not New Age nonsense,” says Herbert Benson of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He and his colleagues analysed the whole genomes of 26 volunteers – none of whom regularly meditates – before teaching them a relaxation routine lasting 10 to 20 minutes. It included reciting words, breathing exercises and emptying the mind.
After eight weeks of performing the routine daily, gene analysis was repeated. Clusters of beneficial genes had become more active and harmful ones less so (PLoS One
The boosted genes had three main effects: improving cellular energy efficiency; upping insulin production, which improves control of blood sugar; and preventing the breakdown of caps on chromosomes that help prevent cells wearing out and ageing.
Boosted genes improve energy efficiency and control of blood sugar, and prevent cell ageing
Clusters of genes that became less active were those involved in chronic inflammation, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
By taking blood immediately before and after the technique was performed, researchers also showed that the gene changes happened within minutes. Further studies in people who regularly meditate suggest these changes could be long term. “It seems fitting that you should see these responses after just 15 minutes just as, conversely, short periods of stress have physiological effects that are harmful in the long term,” says Julie Brefczynski-Lewis of West Virginia University in Morgantown.
The team is now looking at whether these techniques could be used as an adjunct to conventional medicine in people with high blood pressure, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.
This article appeared in print under the headline “Say ommm to keep your genes healthy”