MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Brain, Belief, and Behaviour Lab
Centre for Psychology, Behaviour, and Achievement, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Genes that we inherited can change their activity – they can be active and produce proteins, but they can also stop producing proteins and remain silent. We are now beginning to understand what aspects of our environment affect the activity of which genes.
In this study, we analysed all the existing studies that examined the effects of mind-body interventions on the expression of our genes and found that mind-body techniques reduce the activity of genes that produce inflammatory proteins.
This pattern was found in all studies despite the fact that they vary in the amount of physical activity: Tai Chi, yoga, breathing techniques and different types of meditation. We believe that this effect is observed due to reduced stress.
When we experience something stressful, the brain regions associated with pain get activated and send that signal further to sypmathetic nervous system that produces epinephrine and norepinefrine, and activates nuclear factor kappa B – a molecule that travels to and activated the genes that produce inflammatory proteins. When we do yoga or meditation, we learn to perceive situations differently and consequently experience less stress, which then prevents the production of inflammatory proteins.
MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Response: Most people are aware that mind-body techniques could improve their mental health, but their effect on physical health is still considered controversial. We analysed all the existing scientific evidence and found that there is a consistent pattern – genes that are related to inflammation get downregulated. This suggests that mind-body techniques have the potential to protect from inflammation-related diseases, some of which are psychiatric disorders like anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, but also medical conditions like asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes or Alzheimer’s dementia. However, all of these disease are complex and inflammation is just one of the mechanisms that interacts with others like neural, cognitive or emotional processes that lead to disease. We did not find a direct evidence that mind-body techniques can protect from these diseases, but we see that it can affect inflammation that is in the basis of these diseases, further studies will test this question directly.
I hope that more and more people will come to understand that our inherited genes are not static – their activity depends on our environment, which we can control. By choosing healthy habits every day, we can create a gene activity pattern that is more beneficial for our health. Even just 15 minutes of practicing mindfulness seems to do the trick.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: I believe that it is highly likely that other lifestyle changes might have similar effect on gene expression because genes are very responsive to our environment. At this point, no study has compared mind-body interventions with exercise or any other activity in terms of gene expression changes. The problem is that gene expression is a common measure in molecular biology, while research of behavioural interventions stems from psychology. I would invite researchers to initiate collaborations across disciplines because that is how the magic happens. I hope to see more studies in this area because we are just beginning to discover how our environment can affect the activity of our genes.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.
Ivana Buric, Miguel Farias, Jonathan Jong, Christopher Mee, Inti A. Brazil.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; 8 DOI: 3389/fimmu.2017.00670
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