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A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: Practice Yoga, Meditation to '˜Reverse' Genetic Effects of Stress

A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: Practice Yoga, Meditation to ‘Reverse’ Genetic Effects of Stress

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  • Long-term stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which causes production of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) that triggers genes to produce proteins called cytokines.
  • Cytokines cause inflammation at cellular level and this persistent inflammation can lead to many psychiatric and medical problems like cancer and depression.
  • Mind-body interventions like meditation, yoga and Tai Chi work at a molecular level by reversing the reactions in the DNA that cause ill-health and depression.

The molecular reactions in the human DNA that are responsible for causing ill-health and depression can be 'reversed' by Mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as meditation, yoga and Tai Chi.

According to the study by the universities of Coventry and Radboud, these interventions not only relax the human mind but also work at a genetic level to negate the effects of stress and depression.


Although there is considerable evidence regarding the benefits of MBIs, their contribution at a molecular level has not been well explored.

Reviewing Studies

For the research, decades worth of studies were analyzed. The studies showed how the behavior of genes is affected by different MBIs including mindfulness and yoga.

The team of researchers focused on 18 studies including 846 participants over a period of 11 years. These studies revealed how MBIs induce molecular changes and how this pattern of changes benefit the mental and physical health.

The studies focuses on gene expression showing how a protein which influences the biological make-up of the body, the brain and the immune system, is produced when the genes get activated.

"Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don't realize is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business." said lead investigator Ivana Buric from the Brain, Belief and Behavior Lab in Coventry University's Centre for Psychology, Behavior and Achievement.

The Body's Reaction to Stress

The body's sympathetic nervous system, that is responsible for the 'flight or fight' response, is triggered in response to stress. This response induces the production of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) which regulates how our genes are expressed.

NF-kB activates the genes to produce proteins called cytokines, that cause inflammation at cellular level. Though the production of cytokines is useful as a short-lived fight-or-flight reaction, their persistence increases risk of cancer, accelerates aging and induces psychiatric disorders like depression.

Benefits of MBI

People who practice MBIs exhibit an effect that is the opposite of that observed in those who do not engage in such practices, concluded the study.

In such people, the production of NF-kB and cytokines is reduced, which leads to a reversal of the pro-inflammatory gene expression pattern. This reduces the risk of inflammation-related diseases and conditions.

"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, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our well-being." Buric added.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a mind-body practice that involves techniques such as: It benefits the body and mind by bringing together the physical and mental disciplines.

How Does Yoga Benefit the Body?
  • It reduces stress and anxiety, and helps the individual de-stress
  • It improves muscle strength, flexibility and tone
  • It helps in weight management
  • It manages chronic conditions like blood pressure, arthritis, heart disease

Stress has become an integral part of the fast-paced contemporary life. The long-term effects of stress can lead to persistent pro-inflammatory gene expression which increases the likelihood of various psychiatric and medical problems.

"More needs to be done to understand these effects in greater depth, for example how they compare with other healthy interventions like exercise or nutrition. But this is an important foundation to build on to help future researchers explore the benefits of increasingly popular mind-body activities." Buric says.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.

References :
  1. Yoga: Fight stress and find serenity - (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/yoga/art-20044733)
  2. The Benefits of Yoga - (http://www.osteopathic.org/osteopathic-health/about-your-health/health-conditions-library/general-health/Pages/yoga.aspx)
  3. Ivana Buric et al. What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind-Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices. Frontiers in Immunology; (2017) DOI Link
Source: Medindia

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