Did you know that what you think about and your state of being can alter your physiology at the level of your DNA!?
If you’ve been following my articles for a while, you’re probably now familiar with how fear and stress can perpetuate a negative cascade of biochemical alterations on the mind and body.
The good news is that I have also discussed that there are lifestyle and integrative tools that can positively change how our brain is wired, which can promote health. This is the concept of neuroplasticity, and it is based on the science that the brain can form new pathways and connections via certain stimuluses.
Other ways that we that alter our mindset and shift our biochemistry and brain functioning is through consciously using mind-body medicine and natural approaches to wellness.
In fact, studies have shown that practices such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and even laughter, can modify genetic expression at the cellular level. This means that we can “turn on” genes that are health promoting and “turn down” molecular signals that are harmful.
How cool is that?
We’ve been inundated with doom and gloom long enough.
Let’s start investigating how we can adjust our focus on life-promoting activities that empower us, enhance resiliency, and allow us to flourish.
What if the whole world instantly turned off the news and tuned into that which would enliven their minds, bodies, and communities?
Dare I say, “What a Wonderful World,” that would be!
Exploring the Molecules of Silence: How Meditation and Integrative Mind-Body Medicine Practices Impact our Genes and Wellness Outcomes
What a title, right?
Let’s break it down a bit.
First, do you know what epigenetics is?
If not, check out this little refresher from a previous post:
Epigenetics is a relatively new area of study which is producing an explosion of evidence on how we can influence and alter our cellular functions at the DNA level through our everyday choices. Although we can’t change our genes, we can modify how they express themselves. There is now documentation that we can impact our epigenome imprint through many different lifestyle factors.
- Nutrients and nourishing food choices
- Stress management
- Environmental exposures
Previously, I explored how integrative medicine (IM) can also alter gene expression by highlighting several studies. I’ve listed a few of my favorites below. These demonstrate that, along with lifestyle, being intentional about honoring the connection between the mind and body can truly transform one’s health for the better.
1. Meditation, Mindfulness Practices, Yoga, and Your Genes
Research that demonstrated that meditation was able to alter gene expression of inflammatory mediators hit health headlines in 2013. The study compared the effects of a single day of intensive mindfulness practice between an experienced mediator group and untrained control participants. At the conclusion, the meditators showed a “dramatic range of genetic and molecular differences.”
According to Psychology Today:
In a groundbreaking discovery, a collaborative team of researchers from Wisconsin, Spain, and France reported in December 2013 the first evidence of specific molecular changes at a genetic level following a period of mindfulness meditation.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison…
Meditation was found to alter levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation. “Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,” says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona in Spain, where the molecular analyses were conducted.
In 2014, Scientific American followed up on the “trend” and reported on a study of meditating cancer patients in an article entitled, “Changing Our DNA through Mind Control?” The researchers found that meditation, yoga, and stress resiliency programs could preserve telomere length.
Telomeres are stretches of DNA that cap our chromosomes and help prevent chromosomal deterioration – biology professors often liken them to the plastic tips on shoelaces. Shortened telomeres aren’t known to cause a specific disease per se, but they do whither with age and are shorter in people with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and high stress levels. We want our telomeres intact.
Since then, the power of the mind to impact our physiology via epigenetics has continued to emerge.
In a 2017 systematic review published in Frontiers in Immunology, the link between meditation and mind-body interventions (MBI) and changes in gene expression were further explored. The eighteen-study review included mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, relaxation, and breath regulation. The authors reported that these practices downregulated pathways in the body associated with chronic stress and reduced inflammation. They stated:
Overall, the studies indicate that these practices are associated with a downregulation of nuclear factor kappa B pathway; this is the opposite of the effects of chronic stress on gene expression and suggests that MBI practices may lead to a reduced risk of inflammation-related diseases.
2. Integrative Medicine and The Mechanisms of Shifting Gene Expression
In a 2017 review in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the authors compiled more evidence for their hypothesis that integrative medicine (IM) effects could be explained, at least in part, by epigenetics. Natural products, mind-body practices, and other complementary health approaches were analyzed to determine their influences on the epigenome, the collection of all of the epigenetic marks on the DNA in a single cell.
This figure provides an overview of the proposed direct and indirect effects in which IM can modify genetic expression. For the science geeks:
- Direct effects were believed to be through modulating epigenetic enzymes (including DNMTs, HDACs, HATs, HMTs, and HDMs) or altering biochemical pathways.
- Indirect alterations with IM was based on interference with cellular signaling which then alters cellular processes leading to transcription changes.
The article concluded (bold emphasis mine):
Identification of this epigenetic connection between IM and gene expression makes it possible for humans not merely to heal, but to thrive. This is especially true with respect to temporal and energy medicine, where mind over matter becomes more than a catchy phrase; it could literally be “mind over gene” in this context.
Our work describes how IM may function as an epigenetic modulator for equilibrating the body to peak efficiency and wellness. Furthermore, continued investigation into the molecular mechanisms responsible for the healing effects conveyed through IM will generate valuable insight into the role of epigenetics in healing and contribute to improvements in overall treatment outcome, wellbeing, and longevity.
Conclusion: Being Intentional with Healing Your Genes with Mind-Body Medicine
The implications or the findings discussed are truly profound. Mind-body practice and IM can be utilized to assist with creating a “healed” epigenetic profile for better health outcomes!
I think you will agree that with this evidence “in mind” it is time to start, or continue, contemplating how you can incorporate more mindfulness, meditation, mind-body practices, and/or yoga into your life.
If you need some tips on how to make this a ritual, that’ll be coming up in a follow-up article where I will continue discussing this topic. I will also be providing even more research on the interesting connections between how mind-body practices, relaxation, and levity change our genetic destiny and improve our wellness.
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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.